‘My career has always been a testament of not giving up’: Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong’s rollercoaster journey to the AFCON final

‘My career has always been a testament of not giving up’: Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong’s rollercoaster journey to the AFCON final - Sports - News

Nigerian Captain William Troost-Ekong’s Turbulent Journey in the Africa Cup of Nations

From the elated feeling of scoring the opening goal for his team to the crushing disappointment of losing the advantage, Nigerian captain William Troost-Ekong’s experience in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final earlier this month was a rollercoaster ride, much like his career in international football.

Six months prior to the AFCON tournament, Troost-Ekong was contemplating retiring from international football due to disagreements with coach José Peseiro. The Super Eagles skipper, who had been tasked with leading a demoralized team following their failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, felt disheartened by his treatment at the hands of the Portuguese manager.

“It resulted in us not actually speaking for a few months,” Troost-Ekong shared with Amanda Davies from CNN World Sport during a recent interview. “My pride and ego may have gotten the better of me, making me think about stopping.” However, with the support of his friends and family, he reconsidered his decision.

Reflecting on this moment brought back memories of his international debut in 2015 for Nigeria, a country he chose to represent despite playing for The Netherlands at the youth level. Born to a Dutch mother, Troost-Ekong’s decision was influenced by his father’s heritage and his desire to make his younger self proud.

Troost-Ekong led the Super Eagles as they entered the Ivory Coast for the 34th edition of AFCON, a team carrying the weight of their first failure to qualify for the World Cup since 2006. The group stage began with a nervy 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea, but back-to-back 1-0 wins over the Ivorian hosts and Guinea Bissau saw Nigeria secure their spot in the knockout stages.

Throughout this progress, Troost-Ekong persevered despite suffering a hamstring injury early on. “A lot of times I was gritting my teeth when I had a chance to breathe,” he recalled. “If you have strong enough painkillers and enough adrenaline, you can do a lot more than you think sometimes.”

Victories over Cameroon and Angola led to a semi-final match against South Africa, where Troost-Ekong once again proved his worth with penalty heroics. After dispatching a penalty in regular time, he made no mistake during the subsequent shoot-out to help send his side into the final against Ivory Coast in Abidjan.

Despite a valiant effort, the Super Eagles fell short with just 30 minutes remaining, as Ivory Coast secured their third AFCON crown. Troost-Ekong was disappointed but acknowledged the positives, stating, “We should have pushed on a bit more to try and get the second goal instead of waiting to see what would happen.”

The defeat did little to dampen Troost-Ekong’s spirits, as he believed the team had found a new identity under Peseiro that would help them rebuild. However, changes were on the horizon: Peseiro announced the end of his contract with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) on Friday.

Troost-Ekong’s future also remains uncertain, as he enjoys his football at Greek side PAOK Thessaloniki but has not ruled out a change of scenery in the future. “I can’t reiterate enough how happy I am here at PAOK,” he admitted, “but you never know in football; you might get tempted by something bigger and better.”

At 30 years old, Troost-Ekong is considering all his options, promising that he will continue to give his best on the pitch no matter where that may be.