EFE Ambrose has expressed his bewilderment at the latest international snub to his Celtic central defensive partner Virgil van Dijk as the build up to this summer’s World Cup finals intensifies.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has named a 33-man squad for the friendly against France in Paris on 5 March. It includes no fewer than ten defenders – but, yet again, there is no place for Van Dijk, who has been outstanding in his debut season for Celtic. The 22-year-old now looks certain to miss out on his country’s participation in the finals in Brazil.
Ambrose, who is firmly established in the Nigeria squad ahead of the finals, believes Van Gaal is guilty of overlooking one of his most gifted players.
“For the way he’s playing, I think it is unimaginable that Virgil could not make a squad of 33 players,” said Ambrose. “Of the players who are there, the manager must think they are better. I would be really disappointed if Virgil is not at the World Cup. I think he should be there, because he’s a great player. I am certain that Holland really needs the talent he’s got.
“I believe Virgil will have a long time in the game and will play for Holland. He is still young and will work even harder. I believe he will still play for the Holland national team. He has good feet and has every quality to play in the World Cup. I have seen Holland play and I think he still has a chance, but it is up to the manager. He has to decide what kind of players fit into his squad the best. But I believe that everything is possible in football and that, before the World Cup, Virgil can play for Holland.”
Van Dijk has been an integral part of a Celtic defence who are just 31 minutes away from setting a new all-time Scottish league shut-out record. While Ambrose and Honduran left-back Emilio Izaguirre are assured of places in their respective World Cup squads, goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s inclusion in the England party has been questioned by those who doubt the standard of football he plays on a weekly basis in Scotland.
It is an argument which cuts no ice with Ambrose.
“The first time I played for Nigeria and when I played for them at the 2008 Olympics, I was playing in the second division in Nigeria,” he said. “So, it doesn’t matter where you play. It matters who the player is. I believe Fraser is different class. Nobody can say there is anything he can’t do, because already with Celtic he has done everything. He has kept clean sheets and in every game he’s played, he’s been in top shape.
“Week in, week out he’s been doing it and I believe he should be given a chance to play in the World Cup because I don’t think there is much difference between playing in Scotland and the English Premier League. We have played against the best in the Champions League and Fraser has kept Celtic going. He should go to the World Cup and it doesn’t matter if he’s playing in England, Scotland or Germany. What he is doing is special.”
Ambrose was speaking as Celtic announced their backing for the Project Fair Play initiative which will send thousands of unwanted football strips to disadvantaged children in Brazilian slum areas during the World Cup. His Nigeria side face Argentina, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F at the finals. Ambrose, who was involved in the Confederations Cup trial run in Brazil last summer, is relishing the prospect.
“Brazil is the best place in the world to play football,” he said. “It was a pleasure for me to go to Brazil to play in that tournament. I never thought I’d get the chance to play football there but things happen for a reason and I enjoyed every minute of every game I played there. It is perfect for playing football and for the World Cup. It is a great football nation – the best. Everyone in Brazil speaks about football and for them to have the World Cup is such a big thing.
“We didn’t get the chance to see the kids playing on the beach or anything like that because we didn’t go out of the hotel apart from to train and play games.
“When I was a kid I used to support Brazil because of the way they played football. I didn’t have the kit because I always wanted to get a real one and I hope I will if we play them in the World Cup.
“We have Argentina in our group and have played them at previous World Cups. They have had the edge in the past, but I believe this time things are going to turn. They have many great players, not only Lionel Messi. But we have many players who can match them and it will be a two-way fight. It is a good group to be in, but sometimes the easiest groups become the toughest. That’s the way football is.
“All the countries who have qualified for the World Cup are the best, so we have to prepare to beat the best. We will have to be in the best shape and on top of our game at the World Cup.”