The 27-year-old has become a key member of the national team and recalled his journey to achieving his target
West Bromwich Albion defender Semi Ajayi has expressed his delight with the opportunity afforded him to feature for the Nigeria national team.
The centre-back had represented the West Africans at U20 and U21 level before his call-up to the Super Eagles in 2018 after his fine displays for Rotherham United.
The 27-year-old was a consistent performer for the Millers during his two-year stay and at the end of the 2018-19 season, he was awarded the club’s Player and Goal of the Season accolade.
The defender, however, left Rotherham at the end of the campaign to team up with Premier League side West Brom in the summer of 2019.
Ajayi made his Super Eagles debut against Seychelles in 2019 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers and has since played 14 times for the African giants.
The versatile defender has recalled his excitement when he got an opportunity to represent the three-time African champions.
“When I was at Charlton, I had already represented Nigeria at under-20 and under-21 level. I’d always envisioned myself progressing to the first team,” Ajayi told BBC Sport Africa.
“When I got promoted with Rotherham, I was playing week in week out in the Championship. That season I got a call from the Nigeria team saying that they had been monitoring my progress and they would like to offer me an invitation to the first team.
“I was buzzing, I was over the moon. Then I made my debut a couple of weeks later against Seychelles. It’s a surreal feeling pulling on that jersey and knowing that you are representing 200 million people.
“I’m blessed to be part of the 18 or 23 people selected to represent the country. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”
Ajayi revealed he always spent his summer holiday in Nigeria along with his family before becoming a professional footballer.
“Before I started playing football full time, I used to go there every other summer with my family,” he continued.
“Now that my time off in football is different to the time my mum gets off from work, I don’t go as often. I still go back four times a year for the internationals and then sometimes in the summer.”
Ajayi will be expected to feature prominently in Nigeria’s 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying games in March.