Festus Abu, Moscow
Simeon Nwankwo was largely unknown in Nigeria until he tossed himself into the spotlight when he spearheaded Crotone’s battle against relegation from the Italian Serie A last season.
Although the gangly forward scored seven goals during the run-in, Crotone placed 18th in the table and dropped to Serie B.
Nwankwo, who is popularly called Simy in Italy, hogged the headlines in the international media when he scored a stunning bicycle kick to deny Italian champions Juventus victory in their 1-1 draw in a Serie A affair at StadioEzioScida on April 18.
His goals led to a clamour for Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr to involve the 26-year-old, who had hitherto had a relatively quiet professional career in Europe playing for Portuguese sides Portimonense and Gil Vicente.
The 6 ft 6in spent two seasons at Portimonense and three at Gil Vicente before joining Crotone in 2016.
German manager Rohr calledup Simy for the pre-World Cup friendly match against DR Congo in Port Harcourt.
The player, who has reportedly turned down a $ 3m-per-season wage to a club in the Middle East, played some minutes in the encounter and went ahead to make Rohr’s 23-man squad for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Simy was tipped to be one of the forwards to make an impact at the tournament but he made only cameos in the Super Eagles’ 2-0 defeat by Croatia in Kaliningrad on June 16 and in the 2–1 defeat against Argentina in Saint Petersburg on June 26.
Making cameo appearances for Nigeria in Russia meant the striker, who has not won any notable title in his career, could not showcase his talents on the biggest stage, and denied an opportunity to be taking seriously by the big European outfits.
Certainly the late bloomer would have wished for an opportunity to play a full game in the Eagles’ three fixtures in the group stage of the World Cup.
But Simy says he doesn’t hold any grudges against Rohr. Instead the player, who has reportedly attracted a lot of offers from Italian and Spanish clubs since his arrival from Russia, says he is grateful to the former Bordeaux defender for giving a chance to represent his country at the football showpiece.
“It was a great opportunity for us to show our greatness, but unfortunately we are out of the World Cup,” the Crotone star told our correspondent at the Saint Petersburg Stadium after Nigeria lost to Argentina.
“We showed big character in the tournament and many saw that in us. As a team, we gave a good account of ourselves, and we gave everything to progress in the tournament. But we are very disappointed that we lost against Argentina.”
The former Portugal-based player insists he is not discouraged to have been restricted to two stoppage-time cameos at the World Cup.
Simy said, “I’m not disappointed that I didn’t play much but I thank the coach for believing in me and giving a chance to play for my country in a big tournament like the World Cup.
“I don’t have any grudges against the coach or anyone for not playing a full match in the tournament.”
He added, “I’m very grateful to the my teammates for welcoming me into the team despite the fact that I didn’t play the qualifiers.
“They received me with open arms; I was made to feel like I had been part of the team for a long time.”
Simy said he would jump at that opportunity to play for the country in the remaining Cameroon 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers if invited by Rohr.
A shocking 2-0 defeat to South Africa in their group qualifying match in Uyo on June 12 has put the Eagles on the back foot in the race to Cameroon 2019.
“I believe the national team can win the Africa Cup of Nations after the World Cup disappointment,” Simy said.
“I want to represent my country in the Africa Cup of Nations and if the coach invites me to play in the qualifiers and the tournament proper, I will honour the invitation.
“I love my country and I want to show want I can do.”
Meanwhile, Crotone have reportedly slapped a €15m price tag on the head of the big forward apparently to fend off growing interest in the player who has only one year left on his current deal.
Simy is said to have told Rossoblu he wants to leave StadioEzioScida as he does not want to ply his career in the lower division.
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