IKECHI Anya could perhaps be excused for looking on a little enviously over the next few weeks as Nigeria take part in the World Cup finals.
Had things turned out differently for the Watford player, he might have been plying his international trade for the Super Eagles in Brazil next month.
But Anya is quick to dispel any notion of split loyalties as he looks ahead to winning his sixth Scotland cap against Nigeria at Craven Cottage tomorrow night.
The 26-year-old was eligible to represent the current African champions through his Nigerian father but has no regrets about his decision to opt instead for the land where he was born and schooled.
“There was a little bit of interest from Nigeria when I was playing in Spain for Celta Vigo a few years ago,” said Anya. “But the Celta chairman told me it wasn’t the best time for me to do it, because the Africa Cup of Nations took place during the La Liga season.
“Anyway, my love of football developed in Scotland when I was a kid in Glasgow. Then, when I went to Glenn Hoddle’s academy in Spain, he tried to get me involved in the Scotland Under-21 set-up. That didn’t happen at the time, but it was always going to be Scotland for me.”
It was Dr Chinasa Anya’s line of work which brought his family to Glasgow and he never attempted to influence his son’s choice of country to represent. “My dad is a typical Nigerian man and it’s all about education for him when it comes to his kids,” added Anya. “He takes more of an interest in my football now that I’ve made a career of it, but was a big academic and initially tried to put me down the route of becoming a doctor along with my brother.
“Football-wise, it was actually my mum who was more interested. She is Romanian, so I could have played for them as well, but as soon as she knew Scotland were interested in me, she was happy. I went to school in Glasgow and it is where I learned everything. I went to Nigeria once for a visit when I was young and I appreciate that side of my family, but I chose Scotland.
“Nigeria are a very good side and this is the fifth time they have qualified for the World Cup finals. They have a few Premier League players and are of a good standard. We’ll need to be at our best to get anything from the game. I will be supporting them in the World Cup but I’ll be trying to beat them on Wednesday night.”
Anya has made a positive impression for Scotland since being called into the squad by Gordon Strachan at the start of the season. He scored in the 2-1 win away to Macedonia last September which kick-started the national team’s current five-match unbeaten run, building confidence and optimism ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign which begins this September. “The fans have a real sense we can do it and get to the finals,” said Anya. “The unbeaten run has been really good and I think there is a sense of hope for both the supporters and the players that we can go on and qualify for the next tournament.”
It is more than three weeks since Anya’s domestic season finished with Watford but he certainly doesn’t view tomorrow night’s game – Scotland’s final preparatory fixture before they open their Euro 2016 campaign against Germany in Dortmund – as an incovenient delay to his summer break.
“Playing for Scotland is still quite new to me,” he added. “As soon as I knew I was in the squad for this game, I kept going into the Watford training ground to keep my fitness up. I worked with the physios and a few other lads who are recovering from injuries. I even managed to get away for a short holiday and I was doing fitness work on the beach every day to stay in condition. Every time you get a call-up to play for Scotland, it is a privilege and you need to try and be at your best.”