MOSES: FROM AFCON TO FA CUP
Victor Moses returns to the squad for this weekend's FA Cup replay, his first Chelsea involvement since the third round at Southampton when he enjoyed an outstanding game. The weeks in between were ones to cherish for the 22-year-old.
He returned to London this week as a champion of Africa and he was not only a participant in Nigeria's triumph, he was widely acclaimed as one of the tournament's star performers. It was clear from the scenes at the whistle when Burkina Faso were defeated in the final, and from Moses's tweets since, how much he enjoyed the experience. Now he talks at length to the official Chelsea website about victory for a young squad whose chances were not rated as high before the competition began.
'It meant a lot to me,' he confirms. 'It was my first time in the African Nations and it meant a lot to the country. They have been waiting for that for 19 years and they appreciate what we did, and we are delighted.
'Everyone wrote us off and people said we were going to get knocked out in the first stage, but we still believed in ourselves after the first game. We knew the kind of quality players we have; we might be young players but we believe in ourselves and we kept on working hard as a team.'
Two draws in the opening group games left Nigeria's continued participation in the balance as they took on Ethiopia. That match was all-square at 0-0 as it approached its final 10 minutes.
'If we had drawn that game we would have got knocked out but in the last 10 minutes I got fouled in the area twice and scored two penalties,' Moses recaps.
'No-one thinks I take penalties but I normally practice them in training. Come the match against Ethiopia, when I had the ball and no-one else wanted to take it, I was feeling confident so I thought I am going to take this.'
Moses was not letting poor pitches prevent him from taking players on and it was paying dividends. He was delivering the set-pieces too. In the quarter-finals Nigeria faced the Didier Drogba-spearheaded Ivory Coast and again the Chelsea winger caused the opposing defence many problems.
'That game was a massive boost for us because Ivory Coast were beating everyone and most people thought they were going to win the competition. To go out there in the quarter-final and beat them 2-1, we thought to ourselves as a team that if we can beat Ivory Coast then we can't see anyone stopping us.
'People thought we may lose concentration after that win but we kept working hard.'
The semi-final win over Mali was routine with Moses making the first goal before he was substituted with an ankle injury. He didn't play in the first group game due to hamstring concerns and now he faced a race to make the final.
'I was getting knocks in training and in games because the football there is different from here. I was feeling pains but as a footballer you are often not 100 per cent fit so you have to play with it. I was looking forward to the final and I wanted to play.'
Happily Moses played all 90 minutes of a deserved win in Johannesburg and was involved in the only goal of the game. John Mikel Obi was named Man of the Match while Moses won Samsung Fair Player of the Tournament. Both were named in the Team of the Tournament.
'Obi was very important,' acknowledges Moses. 'He brought the experience he has into the squad and that meant a lot to us. He encouraged us and most of the games he was man of the match. He was a great player for us.'
Of the third Chelsea-owned player in the Nigeria team, 19-year-old Kenneth Omeruo,' he says:
'I couldn't believe it when he said he hadn't played in the African Nations before. He was really strong and is a good defender. He is a great lad and a player for the future.'
The more immediate future for Chelsea is the visit from Brentford tomorrow with Moses aiming to pick up the FA Cup trail where he left off at Southampton.
'We have a massive game on Sunday, and it is not going to be easy for us. I've trained and my ankle is alright and now we have to work hard as a team. We are looking forward to it.'