Albion's World Cup trio ready to perform on football's biggest stage
With the World Cup kicking off, Brighton & Hove Albion will have three players representing them in Russia at the biggest football tournament on the planet.
The Seagulls will see Australian keeper Mat Ryan, Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo and recently signed Nigerian defender Leon Balogun pull on the jerseys of their country as they look to battle their way to the final on July 15.
Ryan featured for Australia as their first-choice keeper at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as his side came up against Spain, Chile, and the Netherlands.
Speaking to Fox Sports Australia, Ryan described the tournament as a very tough time as his side exited the tournament at the group stage. He said: “That World Cup experience was the hardest few days of my life, there’s no doubt about that.
“It was the biggest learning curve of my career, and I think I was a little bit in awe of the enormity of the whole tournament.
“It was my first taste of football at that level, and everything was amplified.”
Ryan’s side have again been handed a difficult group, having been drawn against France, Peru, and Denmark.
In his interview with Fox Sports Australia, Ryan said that despite the hard draw Australia were full of optimism going into their first match against France on Saturday. He said: “These are going to be three of the most difficult games of our lives.
“This season with Brighton I have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United, so that shows what is possible when you believe in yourself.
“As Australians, we have been drilled not to fear anyone, and just to believe in ourselves, so who knows where that can take us?”
Izquierdo will be competing at his first World Cup with Colombia.
Colombia have been drawn with Poland, Senegal, and Japan, and Izquierdo is hoping he can replicate his Albion form at international level.
Newly signed Albion defender Balogun will be making his World Cup bow with Nigeria, having ruled out of the 2014 edition through an injury on his debut for the Super Eagles.
Nigeria will face Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland, and Balogun stated that his injury blow had given him even more motivation to play well at the tournament.
Talking to the BBC he said: “I was very unlucky to miss the last tournament in Brazil and we’ve seen changes since then (managers and players), but we now have a good spirit going into the World Cup.
“Many players will be going for the first time and ready to shine on the biggest stage for football. It’s the dedication and passion that drives us as a team.
“We have a team capable of doing well in Russia and this team can perform to expectations if we have everyone in great shape.”