Dream Debut for Kalu, Ajayi

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For Samuel Kalu and Semi Ajayi, it may have been a shattered dream when Super Eagles gaffer, Gernot Rohr did not look at their direction during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it was a dream come true when the duo made their debut for the Super Eagles in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles last Saturday

Samuel Kalu and Semi Ayayi were among the four new players handed invitation by the Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr for the 2019 AFCON qualifier against the Pirates of Seychelles, the other two being Jamilu Collins, a defender with German Bundesliga B team, SC Paderborn and Kelechi Nwakali of FC Porto of Portugal. But it was only the duo of Kalu and Ayayi that had the chance to play.

Prior to the encounter, Kalu who stars for Bordeaux in France was keen to shine with the team, as he said: “I’m prepared to give everything to the Super Eagles. It’s my first call-up and I want to make the country proud. I’m expecting us to win the game and nothing more. It’s an important game that we cannot afford to lose. We have to work hard and do whatever we can to win the game.”

In a chat with former Nigerian international, Tajudeen Disu, he said the Super Eagles were not impressive against Seychelles, but hailed the duo of Kalu and Ayaji, saying they showed some glimpses.

“Kalu was very impressive all through the time he was on the field. He showed signs of a player that wants to earn a regular shirt in the team and with the way he played it is obvious he would be one of the players Rohr would be looking up to in future,” the former Abiola Babes Captain told THISDAY.

Disu , however, said the time Ajayi featured last Saturday was not really enough to assess him.

“You cannot really assess a player that played for less than 20 minutes, however, the little time he was on the field he showed confidence and defended well. But the quality of opposition from the Pirates is not enough to measure a player. However, the fact that he was even supporting the attack is a sign of a good defender,” Disu noted.

With the likes of Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ogenyi Onazi failing to truly seize the opportunity to prove critics wrong, Kalu was the standout performer, playing 84 minutes of brilliant attacking football that won the heart of many fans back home.

The Bordeaux winger was lively from the blast of the referee’s whistle to his exit, with his pace troubling the Seychelles backline. His quick feet were too hot to handle, and he was fouled in the penalty area just before the hour mark which resulted in Ighalo’s converted effort.

Kalu’s deft touches on the ball were a joy to behold, while his dribbling and trickery were also impressive.

Kalu will have an opportunity to build on his early impact in the double-header against Libya next month.

Over the coming weeks, expect the 21-year-old wideman to build on his positive early start to life with Bordeaux and to continue to settle into life in Ligue 1.

He may not have registered any goals or assists in his three top-flight games so far for the Les Girondins, but he’s made a name for himself with some scintillating showings. 

He’s created five goals scoring chances in 270 minutes of action so far, and these should develop into assists as he and his teammates develop a deeper understanding and a greater connection.

Victor Moses’s time with the Super Eagles, and particularly his performances during the 2013 AFCON-winning campaign, won’t be forgotten, but the emergence of Kalu – who began his own international career in such style – can mean an easy transition for Eagles fans.

For 24-year-old Ajayi, he feels ‘honoured’ after making his international debut for his country in their 3-0 win over Seychelles.

The Rotherham United defender was introduced for injured right-back Chidozie Awaziem in the 73rd minute of the encounter and put in a decent showing to help the Super Eagles see out a comfortable victory.

“Was an honour to make my international debut today. Humbled to finally represent my country at the highest level and even more grateful to mark it with a win and clean sheet. Thank you God ,” Ajayi tweeted.

“It was so exciting and an honour to represent my country. It was a very proud day for me. The Cup of Nations qualifier is the perfect stage for my Super Eagles debut. The team played very well. Three points is always important,” Ajayi told Footballlive.ng.

He added: “I’m just delighted to be out here because it’s such an honour to be called up to represent your country. It will be a different experience and one that can only make me better as a player.”

The former Arsenal player said that his club performance will earn him more call-ups, just as he reiterated that Rotherham’s target is to stabilise in the English Championship.

“As long as I keep performing for my club I hope to get more call-ups. At Rotherham United, we are taking it game by game and want to stay up. We will try and continue to stabilise in the English Championship,” he concluded.

Born to Nigerian parents, Ajayi began his football career as a youth product of the Charlton Athletic Academy. After progressing through the Charlton Athletic ranks, he was offered his first professional contract in January 2012.

In November 2012, Ajayi joined Dartford on a short-term loan for 28 days. He played three games and scored one goal before returning to his parent club in late-December.

After returning to Charlton Athletic, Ajayi played for the reserve side for the rest of the season and helped win the Professional Development League 2.

Shortly before he was due to make his debut for the Charlton first team, Ajayi caught the eye of Premier League side, Arsenal and he joined the Arsenal Academy on a two-year deal after impressing as a trialist with the club in September 2013.

In 2015, Ajayi joined Championship side, Cardiff City on loan until the end of the 2014–2015 Season but did not feature for the first team. At the end of the season, he, however, joined Cardiff on a two-year permanent deal following the end of his contract at Arsenal.

In 2017, Ajayi signed a loan deal until the end of the 2016–17 season with fellow Championship strugglers, Rothertham United and made his debut the following day and ever since he has been solid for his team.