CONFEDERATIONS CUP PREVIEW: MIKEL RELISHES TESTING GROUND
John Mikel Obi is looking forward to his first visit to Brazil and hopes his Nigeria side can pull off some surprises in this month's Confederations Cup.
The midfielder, along with Chelsea team-mate Victor Moses and our young defender Kenneth Omeruo, helped the Super Eagles to their first African title since 1994 earlier this year (pictued), leading them to compete in Brazil a year ahead of next summer's World Cup, the first to be staged in the country since 1950.
'I love being an African champion; it doesn't come often for many people,' said the 26-year-old Mikel. 'I'm very proud of what we've achieved and I hope we can keep enjoying it.
'I've not been to Brazil before, so this will be my first chance to go and play there. It will be great because I always looked up to the Brazilian team when I was growing up. Their football has always been what everyone looks at, so I would love to go there and also see the culture and how people live.
'It's a good chance to see what the pitches and stadiums are like ahead of the World Cup, and hopefully we can be there in a year too.'
This summer's tournament sees Nigeria paired with Spain and Uruguay in Group B, though they will expect to win their first group game against Tahiti on Monday.
'It makes the season a little bit longer but it's why we play football, to be champions and play in tournaments like this, to put your name in the record books,' Mikel qualified.
'We have a tough group with Spain and Uruguay, but it's a chance for us to see where we are compared to other countries, if we make the World Cup.
'This competition will be good for us to test ourselves and we will see what happens. We've not spoken with the Spanish guys about it, but I just hope we can beat them when we play!'
That encounter will take place on Sunday 23 June, with the Nigerians facing Uruguay three days earlier.
Group A consists of hosts Brazil, Italy, Japan and Mexico, with the first game between the Brazilians and the Japanese in Brasilia on Saturday.
Nigeria may benefit from their lead-up to the Confederations Cup being highly competitive fixtures, rather than the warm-up friendlies the other teams have played.
Having beaten Kenya away in a World Cup qualifier a week earlier, a win for the Super Eagles in Nambia on Wednesday would have made them the first side through to next autumn's play-off round of qualifiers for the main event next summer.
However Nambia took a 77th-minute lead before Nigeria equalised six minutes later. The point puts them three points ahead of second-place Malawi who they face in the final group game in September.
Mikel and 19-year-old Omeruo, who spent a productive season on-loan at Den Haag in Holland, played the whole of both World Cup qualifiers this month. Injury kept Moses out and prevent his participation in the Confederations Cup.