Ikechi Anya eyes more highlights for Scotland

Ikechi Anya at St Andrews Old Course Hotel. Picture: Paul Reid
Ikechi Anya at St Andrews Old Course Hotel. Picture: Paul Reid
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Scotland’s international player of the year Ikechi Anya has his sights on eclipsing that special goal against the world champions

IKECHI Anya enjoyed Wednesday night’s flurry of activity on social media as the superstars of Barcelona struggled to replicate his feat of scoring past German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. But the Scotland international says he wants to be remembered for more than one goal -– albeit one against the reigning world champions.

Anya scores in Scotland's defeat against Germany. Picture: SNS

Anya scores in Scotland's defeat against Germany. Picture: SNS

Neuer was at his impressive best for Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final and pulled off a string of high- class saves before Lionel Messi produced his magic to break through. But, as Neuer denied the likes of Dani Alves and Luis Suarez, Anya lapped up the response of the Twitterati.

“A few people tweeted me saying, ‘so Ikechi Anya’s better than Suarez’. I favourited them! Like I say, it was a huge moment. It’s not every day you score against the world champions, but it’s gone now. As much as it’s nice to think of and I’m sure that when I retire I’ll look back on it, but I don’t want it to be my highlight. I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve milked it for what it’s worth, now I need to try and achieve better things personally as well as collectively.”

The Watford player has been voted St Andrews Old Course Hotel International Player of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association, rounding off a season he can only look back on and savour. As well as securing promotion to the Premier League with his club, he has been a constant in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland side as they continue to inch to qualification for the 2016 European Championships

“I have been asked what the highlight of my Scotland career so far is. For me, it isn’t really about personal things. Although the Germany one is something that I hold dear, the highlight was probably the Ireland game.

“When we went back to the changing room after beating them, everyone, the whole squad, was so together. We realised the job we had done and how important the result was. Obviously, the Germany goal is up there, but I think success is better when it is shared. So, I would say the Ireland moment is my favourite one to date.”

After five games, the national side sit third in Group D. They will enhance their chances of qualifying for their first major finals since 1998 if they can increase the gap between themselves and Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland when they meet in Dublin on 13 June.

Anya, who described the campaign so far as merely adequate and, with lofty targets set, is unlikely to alter that view until the squad can secure qualification. While third place would be good enough for a play-off place, his positivity means that outcome is not one he is contemplating yet.

“Why limit ourselves? I’d be alright with finishing first. We face these sort of scenarios when we come to them, but we go into every game trying to win. If we are successful – we will finish first. We’ll only face the play-off scenario if it comes to it.

“I don’t think the Ireland game is a must win. Obviously it would be good if we could as it would put a little gap between us, but we are just going to go into the game and try to get the three points. We’re not thinking that we need to win the game.”

Taking it one game at a time, he goes into each 90 minutes anticipating a favourable result. So far, the 27-year-old winger, who assumes a more defensive role at Watford and only scored that one goal – against Germany – this season, has rarely been disappointed.

“This is the first full campaign I’ve been a part of. I came in at the back end of the World Cup one. I felt from those sort of results, Macedonia away and Croatia at home, that we could win every game we went into. That has stood true, apart from the Germany loss. That’s the only competitive game we’ve lost.

“I’ve had the mentality in every international game that I have gone into of thinking we are going to win. Since day one, when I first joined up with the squad, I have felt we could achieve something.

“Obviously it was too late for the World Cup campaign, but now we are living in this moment. We have had a good first half and, hopefully, we can replicate that in the second half.

“One of the keys to our success is that we might not have the most quality as individuals when you compare us to the likes of Germany, but, as a unit, I think we can compete with the best.”

That is why he never takes his place in Strachan’s squad for granted and why he was surprised to win the individual award.

“I am very honoured that they would consider me as not only the winner, but just as a contender because we have had a good year together. Since Gordon Strachan has taken over we have all been pushing forward.

“As much as these awards are nice it would be the cherry on top of the cake if we qualify for France.”