On Sunday, Nigeria won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the third time in their history after Sunday Mba's goal five minutes before the break gave the Super Eagles a 1-0 victory against Burkina Faso. In an exclusive interview, Celtic defender Efe Ambrose, who was named in CAF's team of the tournament, tells FIFA.com that the side came to the finals as underdogs, but are leaving as giants.
FIFA.com: Before the tournament, everybody was talking about Côte d'Ivoire, did that help take some of the pressure off your side?
Efe Ambrose: Yes, we came here as an underdog. Nobody gave us a chance because of the calibre of players we have. People were saying we have inexperienced players, but they don't know football. Football these days is not about experience, it is all about determination, hard work and preparation. So, we proved them wrong, that is the most important thing.
How important was your coach Stephen Keshi to this success?
The coach had trust and confidence in the players. That matters the most, for without that, you cannot succeed. But he believed in us and that we could do it. From the start he told us that when we were here, there was nothing that could stop us from winning this cup. He said, even before we came here, that his aim was not only to win the cup, but to go to the Confederations Cup. The Confederations Cup is bigger than what we were playing for in South Africa. With his dream, it helped us a lot to know that we had a bigger thing ahead of us. Nobody gave Nigeria the chance because last year we did not even qualify for the finals, so everybody wrote us off. But this made us more determined to work hard, train more and prove people wrong. We wanted to make sure that we are a giant of African football, and we wanted to bring back the glory of the past to the present.
What will it mean for the Super Eagles to play at the Confederations Cup?
It is a big thing, and we are all looking forward to going to Brazil. And we will not only be going there to play for Nigeria, but we will go there to make Africa proud.
We will not only be going there (Brazil 2013) to play for Nigeria, but we will go there to make Africa proud.
What does winning the title mean for you personally?
This is my biggest achievement that I have had to date. Before this, it was the Olympic silver medal from Beijing. But this is the biggest, so this is one of the greatest moments of my life. It was always my dream to play in the Nations Cup, but I would have never thought of winning it. So now I just have to thank God and all Nigerians, from the President to the last person in Nigeria for their belief. It is no longer about us on the pitch, it is all about team effort and we are one, because football unites us and I know people at Celtic and back home in Nigeria will be celebrating for us and waiting for the cup to be paraded in Nigeria.
What are your immediate plans?
I can only decide after I speak to my coach at Celtic because we have the Champions League game with Juventus coming up in a few days. So I have to speak to my coach first to be sure if he will allow me to go to Nigeria. But if he does not, I will accept it because it is my club, so they come first. When my club needs me, I just have to go there and help and see what we can do in the Champions League.
What do you think was the key to Nigeria's success?
We worked very hard and trained hard. It is not easy to achieve this, and it is due to the hard work and dedication which we put in place every day. We sacrificed so many things to be where we are now. But to win was always going to be a great sacrifice.
In 1996, Nigeria did not come to South Africa to defend their trophy. Was this like a belated vindication?
Yes, it was as if we came to defend our cup, which we were supposed to do then, but due to politics and other things, we could not defend it. It was also good to see that football brought us and South Africa together again. You could see the locals were cheering for us. When South Africa could no longer win, they were not happy, but we have made them happy by winning this cup.