Mum’s the word for Ikechi Anya

Ikechi Anya, centre, trains with Scotland
Ikechi Anya, centre, trains with Scotland
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She might not be walking the metaphorical million miles to see her son hopefully score for Scotland, but Ikechi Anya’s mum Mariena will certainly clock up a few hundred as she travels from her home in Sussex to watch the pint-sized winger take on the Republic of Ireland and England.

So proud of her boy is Mariena that she intends to drive from Crawley to Celtic Park on Friday, head straight back home, and then do it all over again on Tuesday.

It’s a support Anya has received since he was a kid kicking a ball about in the streets of Glasgow housing estate Castlemilk, and it’s one he hopes to continue repaying with a European Championship victory over the Irish and another against the Auld Enemy when national pride rather than qualifying points is at stake.

Anya has become a firm favourite of the Tartan Army since his surprise call-up by Gordon Strachan, his goal against Germany in Dortmund bringing the Scots within a whisker of claiming a draw with the nation which had become World Cup winners only a few weeks earlier, and now he’s hoping to turn on the style in this double-header.

Although he could have played for Romania, the country of his mother’s birth, or for his father’s homeland, Nigeria, Anya sees himself as nothing other than Scottish, pulling on that dark blue jersey with pride as Strachan’s side have made an impressive start to their qualifying campaign, the bitter failure of the previous tilt at World Cup glory now well and truly banished to the past.

Now there is a new-found confidence and belief which has been mirrored by results in Group D, which itself has provided intense competition rather than Germany running away with it as most expected. Poland, Ireland, Germany and Scotland are all very much in the chase, as are Georgia, with only minnows Gibraltar looking like also-rans.

But as tight as it is, the Watford winger insisted nothing will be decided on Friday, saying: “Even if the worst comes to the worst and we don’t get a win or a draw, it is not the end of the world. We will have games to try and make it up.”

Anya admitted, though, that there appears to be little between the Scots and the Irish. He said: “They have a very impressive squad and the bulk of their players are Premier League or Championship players, quite similar to us.

“They are doing very well and to get a draw in Germany was a massive result for them.”

With Hampden out of action having been utilised for this summer’s Commonwealth Games Scotland find themselves “on the road” again having earlier beaten Georgia at Ibrox, and Anya is looking forward to playing his game at Celtic Park.

He said: “I’ve never played there before. My mum is going to drive up on Friday and drive back down on the same day, then she is going to drive back up for the England game on Tuesday.”

But does knowing that his mother is going to such lengths to watch him play put any added pressure on him? “It’s never a case of having to impress your family as they just want you to do your best,” he said. “They probably want you to do even better than you want to do for yourself.

“I will go out relaxed and play how the gaffer wants me to. And hopefully I will also have that little bit of luck to have a good night where it all comes together.”

Although his rise to international football may have taken even Anya by surprise, he insists the faith shown in him by Strachan has a made the transition so much easier.

He said: “I look upon it as a privilege. The gaffer has given the attacking players so much freedom to express themselves.

“The attacking prowess we have within the team is very good and we know we can go on and win games. We have incredible players with real strength in depth there now.

“It is so positive on all fronts.”