No matter what happens at the FIFA Confederations Cup, Efe Ambrose will look back on this season as the best of his career. And no wonder. It has, after all, been something of a fairy tale year for the 24-year-old centre-half, who has scaled dramatic new heights with both club and country.
The highlight, of course, was winning the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in February and ending Nigeria’s 17-year wait for a major trophy. Ambrose was an ever-present during that triumphant campaign and so impressive were his performances that he earned a place in CAF’s team of the tournament.
Yet it has also been a momentous season in his club career, encompassing a move to Scottish giants Celtic and the capturing of his first silverware since relocating to Europe in 2010. Better still, the former Ashod defender enjoyed his first extended foray in the UEFA Champions League, qualifying for the last 16 at the expense of Benfica and Spartak Moscow. There was even an unforgettable victory over Barcelona en route and it is that shock result – allied to the Super Eagles’ unexpected triumph at the Cup of Nations – which leaves Ambrose believing that the surprises, and the success, can continue at Brazil 2013.
FIFA.com: Efe, how would you describe your feelings about playing in the FIFA Confederations Cup?
Efe Ambrose: I see it as a big opportunity. This is one of these tournaments you might get the chance to play in only once in your lifetime, so I am very excited. It is a dream come true really. To be playing in a great football country like Brazil, in a Confederations Cup - it is the kind of thing you dream of when you first start playing football. It is a huge achievement for me and also for this team and my country. This tournament is special because we know we are representing the whole of Africa, and that gives us extra responsibility but extra pleasure too. And we deserve to be here. We showed at the Cup of Nations that our teamwork and our ability is deserving of that trophy. Now we want to make sure that we represent not only Nigeria but Africa in a good manner against the best teams in the world.
Was that Cup of Nations success all the more satisfying as you had not been among the pre-tournament favourites?
It’s true that we were not the favourites but I think football has changed a lot in recent years and those kind of things are not so important anymore. At every tournament you will have a team that has the best players, but it is important to remember too that aspects like teamwork, determination, unity and physical preparation count for a lot. No-one gave us a chance at the Cup of Nations because they thought we were too inexperienced, but we knew that we could do great things if we stuck together.
You now approach another tournament in which few expect Nigeria to go all the way. Can you cause an upset again?
I think so. I’m not saying we will win the Confederations Cup but we believe in ourselves, we trust in God, and with the right attitude I am sure we will have a great tournament. When you have the right ingredients, nothing is impossible. That’s the way I feel about this tournament.
Are Nigeria realistic contenders to win the trophy?
As I say, nothing is impossible. You have to believe.
I’m not saying we will win the Confederations Cup but we believe in ourselves, we trust in God, and with the right attitude I am sure we will have a great tournament.
First up, of course, is your opening match against Tahiti. I imagine that you will see three points from this one as a necessity if you are to go through?
That is the way I see it, yes. The most important thing of all for us is to focus on this match. It is a match we know we need to win and, to do that, we need to be fully concentrated. We cannot afford to take any chances. Big shocks have happened before in these kind of tournaments and we don’t want to be the victims this time. We know we need to get the three points to give ourselves a good chance of qualifying for the next stage.
Your group also includes the European and world champions, Spain. In facing such a team, will you take confidence from your experience with Celtic this season, beating Barcelona in the Champions League?
I think that game was a lesson for everyone. It proved exactly what I said about football being all about teamwork and playing together as one. No-one gave us a chance against a team with Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and all the rest. Barcelona are special, and so are Spain. But Celtic proved it can be done; that these teams can be beaten. If Nigeria can do the same – play as a team, stay united – we have a chance in any match we play. We are the best team in Africa and I think there is no reason for us to fear anyone.
You arrive at the tournament fresh from having won a league and cup double with Celtic. How have you enjoyed your first season in Scotland?
It has been wonderful. The whole experience of playing for a big club like Celtic, winning the league and the cup, has been a massive achievement for me. This has been the best season of my career so far, I have no doubts about that. To come to Celtic, win trophies, compete in the Champions League, and also win the Cup of Nations with Nigeria, I could not have asked for any more and I can only thank God for everything I have been given.
What about the future for club and country? How do you see both teams evolving?
I think the future for both teams is very good. Celtic have a young team with a lot of talent, and I think it will only get better. When you have a young team like this, it can achieve a lot. Nigeria are the same. We have mainly young players and I think that everyone has yet to see this team’s full potential. I very excited about what the future holds.