Chiedozie Ogbene has thanked Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny for believing in him after marking his elevation to the international stage with a first senior goal for his country.
The 24-year-old Rotherham winger came off the bench in Baku to score the final goal in a 3-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Azerbaijan which finally ended Kenny’s wait for a first competitive victory at the 13th time of asking.
It was just Ogbene’s second cap with his first in a friendly draw with Hungary in June making him the first African-born player to represent Ireland at senior level.
Asked about his goal, which came in the 90th minute at the Baki Olimpiya Stadium, he said: “When I scored my first goal, it was overwhelming, I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, my family and my friends.
“I owe it to the gaffer for believing in me because the squad we have, anybody could have come on at any moment and for him to believe in me and bring me on, it was a special night for me and my family, and the team and the nation.”
Ogbene is one of seven players in the current squad currently plying his trade in League One and he admits the step up to international football is significant.
However, he is thrilled to have been given the chance to take it and is determined to reward Kenny for his faith.
He said: “I believe in myself, I believe in my abilities and I guess that I haven’t come here by luck.
“The manager has watched me for many months and years and he obviously believes that my qualities are valuable to the team.
“When I was on the pitch, obviously it’s a lot different from club football. This is the highest level of football and it’s has always been a dream of mine.”
Ogbene’s contribution proved to be the icing on the cake after Callum Robinson had ended a turbulent week with a first-half double to put the visitors in the driving seat.
The West Brom striker had spent the days leading up to the game facing criticism after revealing he had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 despite twice testing positive for the virus.
More generally, the result and performance eased the pressure on Kenny, who had won just one of his first 16 games as manager – a friendly against Andorra – and seen the Republic’s qualification hopes dashed.
Ogbene said: “Obviously the mood is high in the dressing room, 3-0 away from home is a great result for us, for the manager and the nation. It’s a result overdue.
“All of us have made a lot of sacrifice and we have taken a lot of criticism on the way here, and I feel like we deserve it. We deserve to be happy and we need to maximise the occasion and enjoy it to the most.”