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CALVIN BASSEY reckons being overlooked for international duty in January was a key point in his remarkable campaign that saw him rise to prominence with Rangers.
The Nigerian missed out on a place at the African Cup of Nations and had to watch on as the Super Eagles suffered an early exit as they were beaten at the last 16 stage by Tunisia.
Bassey put that disappointment behind him in spectacular style, though, and he would finish the season at club level with Man of the Match performances in the Europa League and Scottish Cup finals.
AFCON qualifiers against Sierra Leone and São Tomé and Príncipe were the final outings of an incredible term for the defender and he is now an integral part of the international setup under the guidance of boss José Peseiro.
Bassey said: "I love being Nigerian. I think the culture is unique, the people are unique and we are a great nation.
"I was shocked [to get called up]. I couldn’t believe it. I just felt to privileged and blessed.
"I thank God every day because God is our strength. I just feel blessed and privileged to be here and to represent our great nation.
"Playing for Nigeria, I don’t think I can really put it into words. We have over 200 million people behind our backs every time we go onto that pitch.
"Just being able to be able to be one of the 25 players in the squad representing them is a dream come true. We have got important games coming up and I just want to help the team in any way I can.
"Obviously it was very disappointing [to miss AFCON] but I knew I just needed to work harder and try and up my game.
"I am guessing that is why I am here. Hopefully I have done that and caught the coaches’ eye."
Bassey's stunning form for Rangers has seen him linked with moves to the Premier League and the Ibrox board have placed a £25million valuation on his head this summer.
The 22-year-old excelled in centre-back and left-back berths for Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side and he will have a key role to play in the coming campaign as Rangers bid to reclaim their Premiership title and prepare for a crack at the Champions League.
Bassey joined team-mate Joe Aribo and former Ibrox star Leon Balogun in the squad earlier this month and has shown his versatility and promise on the international stage as well as making a name for himself at domestic and European level this term.
"I always get asked [what is my best position]," Bassey told NFF TV. "But me, honestly, I just like to play football. I just like to play football.
"If the manager puts me as striker, I am going to go there and give everything I have got.
"I just love playing football. Sometimes I feel like it depends what a coach want from you.
"We have seen many players, like (James) Milner for example, that changes position. Sometimes he is playing centre mid, sometimes he is playing on the left.
"It just depends the game you are playing and what the manager wants from you.
"The one thing you can never doubt about Nigeria is the talent. We have always had some of the top young talents in the world. I think they are only going to get better, only going to get stronger.
"There will always be high expectations because we have always had talents in the Nigeria squad. We have just got to take each game as it comes."