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Fitness key to Nigeria’s success in Russia, says Leon Balogun

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Super Eagles defender, Leon Balogun says it is crucial his fellow international team-mates stay injury-free ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Nigeria, the first side from Africa to seal a spot in Russia, has been drawn in Group D alongside Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.

Unbeaten in qualifying and with impressive friendly victories against Argentina and Poland, Balogun says the fitness of players will be key to having a successful campaign this summer.

“We have a team capable of doing well in Russia and this team can perform to expectations if we have everyone in great shape,” the Mainz defender told BBC Sport.

“As a professional you don’t think so much about getting injured or avoiding it, you just give everything on the pitch for club and country.

“I know injuries come with football and if we are very lucky not have it, then all the players in Nigerian colours have the spirit to fight for success until the end.”

Three-time African champions, Nigeria continue its impressive run of appearances at the finals, having missed only one tournament - Germany 2006 - since qualifying for their debut in 1994.

At its last appearance, the experienced Super Eagles led by Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama reached the second round in Brazil before losing to France, and Balogun says the current team is focused on success.

“I was very unlucky to miss the last tournament in Brazil and we’ve seen changes since then (managers and players), but we now have a good spirit going into the World Cup,” the Germany-born player added.

“Many players will be going for the first time and ready to shine on the biggest stage for football. It’s the dedication and passion that drives us as a team.

“Some so-called big teams will also miss players due to injuries but we can only hope for the best and go to Russia with the same spirit we have now,” said Balogun.

Already sweating over the fitness of Wilfred Ndidi and Joel Obi, Gernot Rohr’s side will face DR Congo in a friendly in Port Harcourt on May 28.
World Cup-bound England will be Nigeria’s opponents on June 2 at Wembley ahead of the final warm-up fixture against Czech Republic on 6 June.

“We’ve enjoyed a good preparation so far and learning from our mistakes as well,” said Balogun.

“These last three matches will give us a chance to get in the right place for the World Cup.”

29-year-old Balogun, a leader at the back, made his debut against Mexico in 2014 and has been called up 14 times by Nigeria.


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