Leon Balogun admits he and Rangers team-mates Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey are facing two monumental derby clashes before they even get to Celtic.
The Ibrox trio are amongst the Light Blues squad who face a moment’s next clash on the club scene in the shape of the Old Firm showdown on Sunday week.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s title chasers go into the cracker against the Premiership pacesetters on their own patch with an opportunity to haul themselves level on points with six games to go in a pulsating battle for the cherished title.
But, beforehand, Balogun and his Nigerian buddies have two enormous derbies on the international scene which have the capacity to be every bit as explosive as the Glasgow clash.
Balogun’s Super Eagles have their Qatar 2022 aspirations firmly on the line before returning to domestic business with a win-or-bust World Cup play-off against fierce rivals Ghana.
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The West African neighbors are torrid rivals on the park and it is a high-stakes battle which has demanded the attention of both populations.
Balogun knows the importance of the ties to the people, but says he has to keep outside noise out of his thinking as he prepares for an eagerly-awaited 180 minutes.
He explained: “These kinds of derbies are big and they demand a special kind of character.
“I think that I can bring that and I do not need to voice it in any way outside of the pitch because you have to speak for yourself with the team for your country.
“I try to leave the rivalry pretty much aside without saying that I don’t respect it.
“For me personally and my preparations for the game, it doesn’t matter too much because it is about where do I want to go with the team? That is the World Cup.
“It happens we play against Ghana, so yes there is that rivalry. I know there is huge importance to that outside of football and also within football with the fans and everything.
“But I try to leave that to them and do my best on the pitch.”
Away from football, there has been rivalry down the years with Balogun’s captain Ahmed Musa outlining the sheer magnitude of the ties when explaining the desire of each nation to be the best.
Musa said: “It is not only about football. It is about politics, Nigeria/Ghana. It’s about jollof (rice), Nigeria/Ghana.
“It’s about music, acting, fashion, everything. Football comes together to show who is king.”
Balogun understands the intensity of the situation, but added: “Obviously, I’ve heard a few names.
“I mean, it is part of it and I embrace it, but I don’t really entertain it. I leave it to the people who come up with it and focus on football.”
Balogun, Aribo and Bassey are all set for key roles in the two-legged battle which van Bronckhorst will hope does not drain his stars before their return.
The first leg of the play-off between three–time African champions Nigeria and four-time African champions Ghana takes place tomorrow at the 40,000–capacity Baba Yara Stadium.
Local reports suggest the second leg at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja on Tuesday is expected to be fiery.
Pressure is on the Rangers trio and their countryman after their shock exit from the African Cup of Nations in January when they were touted as potential winners before flopping at the last 16 stage and crashing out at the hands of Tunisia.
Although Aribo was part of the disappointment, Balogun missed AFCON through injury and Bassey was also a shock absentee from the squad.
However, the versatile defender could now be in line for a debut having forced his way into the plans of coach Augustine Eguavoen due to his impressive form at Ibrox.
It promises to be a baptism of fire for the 22-year-old in such a high-profile and critical pair of fixtures.
But Bassey is refusing to get caught up in the hype surrounding the matches and is concentrating on doing his job for the manager and his country.
Speaking about the first leg, for which his team will travel to Ghana this morning, the former Leicester City kid said: “It’s a massive game, of course. It’s just focusing on how I can help the team and what I need to do. What my role is going to be.
“That’s the biggest thing, to get locked in because it is going to be a test. They are a good team, but we also have a good team.
“It will be a good match and, hopefully, we can get halfway there.”
Bassey is grateful to have his Rangers colleagues beside him and added: “Joe and Leon have both been there for me.
“I’ve played with them at Rangers for months now and they have told me all about their happy experiences with the Nigeria team.
“Joe really enjoyed the experience of playing in the African Cup of Nations and of course, Leon has done it all and played at World Cups with Nigeria.
“These are the things I want to experience with Nigeria. I will work as hard as I can to try and get the opportunity to play in these games.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.