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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Ajayi believes Egypt's Ahly will be gateway for Nigeria call-up

Hatem Maher , Friday 21 Jul 2017
Ibrahim Salah of Zamalek and Junior Ajayi of Ahly in action during an Egyptian Premier League game on 17 July, 2017 (Reuters)
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Junior Ajayi, who has quickly established himself as one of Ahly's key players, believes the Cairo giants will act as a springboard for a Nigeria call-up.

The 21-year-old won over Ahly's demanding supporters with a series of fine display after joining in the summer of 2016 from Tunisian side Sfaxien as the Egyptian champions sought to replace Gabonese striker Malick Evouna, who left for China's Tianjin Teda.

Although it took Ajayi some time to break into the first team under Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry, he grasped his chance with both hands, scoring eight goals and providing four assists in 22 Egyptian Premier League appearances as the team swept to a second straight title.

His versatility was also a blessing for El-Badry, having demonstrated a great ability to play as a deep-lying forward, often linking up well with Ahly's wingers.

Ajayi was part of Nigeria's squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but has not earned a call-up to the Super Eagles' senior side.

"I'm not bothered, I'm still young. I know I must work hard to play for Nigeria," he said in an interview with Ahly's official website on Friday.

"I'm confident that Ahly is my gateway to any success with my national team so I'm fully focused on proving myself here."

Ajayi was on target during two victories for Ahly over arch-rivals Zamalek in the Premier League last season.

He headed home moments after his introduction in a 2-0 win in December and netted again with a delightful shot from inside the area in Monday's victory with the same scoreline on the final day of the season.

Ajayi said his latest strike against Zamalek made up for a stunning miss with the goal at his mercy when Ahly lost to their perennial rivals in the Egyptian Super Cup in February.

"My goal against Zamalek is one of the most important for me so far. It ensured our win at a time when Zamalek were trying to equalize … and it was the best compensation for me after the goal I wasted against them in the Super Cup, which I will never forget," he added.

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