Brighton & Hove Albion defender Leon Balogun admitted his appearances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia were made more significant because of his defiance to make the tournament at the second time of asking.
The summer arrival from FSV 05 Mainz was set to feature in the 2014 tournament in Brazil four years earlier, but an unfortunate injury sustained against Mexico ruled him out of the competition at the age of 25.
He said, “The injury made the summer more special because a lot of people were wondering whether my career as an international player would come to an end.
“The fact that not many people expected me to be there made me more happy and it made it more special.
“I was able to share the occasion with my parents and played against the best player in the world in my opinion [Lionel Messi] – the fans were fantastic, and the atmosphere was amazing, so it provided me with many priceless memories.”
The Super Eagles were put in a group with Iceland, Croatia and Argentina for the finals. A 2-0 loss to Croatia in the opening game was followed by a victory over Iceland by the same scoreline.
A final group contest showdown against Argentina ended in a 2-1 defeat, as a late goal from Marcos Rojo put pay to the side’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages – nonetheless the 30-year-old was still full of admiration for the memories the competition had provided for him.
“It’s been an exciting journey and the experience is something I will always be grateful for.
“I still think about the last-minute defeat to Argentina and it does hurt a little bit, but life goes on and I’m happy to be here now with that experience on my side.
“You never know what will happen in football, there’s another World Cup in four years and I might participate, but for now and for the next four years I have other stages of my career to complete.”
Albion’s pre-season preparations commenced at the end of last month, with Balogun having to wait to join his new team-mates at the training ground this week.
With the opening game of the new Premier League campaign away to Watford on the horizon, the defender discussed his aims and objectives for the upcoming weeks.
“The league starts very soon and between now and then it’s about getting up to speed with everyone else as soon as possible.
“Then I want to take it from there, but I’ll give everything I can to improve what this group already has and play the biggest role that I can for the team.”
“It’s my first day [Wednesday] and I’ve just finished – I was really warmly received and it’s a nice group.
“My first impressions were very positive, and I feel very comfortable within the group – they all made me feel welcome.”