Having touched down in the Ivory Coast ahead of his country’s crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against Morocco on Saturday, Wilfried Zaha is determined to make his mark on the international scene when it matters most.
The Eagles winger could help his country secure their spot at the finals in Russia next summer if they beat their opponents in Abidjan, but despite winning seven caps for the Elephants since switching his international allegiance a year ago, the game will be special for Zaha who has returned to the Ivory Coast for the first time since his family swapped West Africa for south London aged four.
Now, he is aiming to give something back to the nation of his birth by putting in his best performance in the famous orange shirt to secure their qualification for a fourth successive World Cup.
“This is my first time back and it’s nice to be here,” he said exclusively to cpfc.co.uk. “When I arrived the reception was crazy – I’d left here as no-one and come back as a hero, and I feel like I haven’t even done anything yet!
“I’m looking forward to the game because it’s an opportunity for me to prove my worth and show up in big games. Big players step up in big games, and I want to be one of those players that my team can rely on.”
I would like to say thank you to my people for the amazing welcome last night. Honestly feels so good to be back ❤🇨🇮🤙🏿 pic.twitter.com/sIUW53vwUK— Wilfried Zaha (@wilfriedzaha) November 7, 2017
Zaha was afforded a warm welcome by the locals, who packed out the capital city’s airport to see their star man in the flesh. Having been touched by their support, the Palace man is desperate to repay them on the weekend when 45,000 fans, including many members of his family, will pack out the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny hoping to see the Ivory Coast book their place in Russia.
“When I see fans with banners with me on them, it’s crazy because these people don’t even know me,” he added. “It’s nice to feel the love as soon as I left the airport. That’s why when I put on the shirt, it means a lot because they have so much love and belief, and I’ve yet to do anything yet.
“When we played against Senegal in France, the crowd were crazy and that wasn’t even here! There’s a lot at stake because with the Moroccan crowd it’ll be a nice vibe, so I’m looking forward to it.
“My brother Herve has flown down with me as he comes with me everywhere anyway, and my other brother Judicael is here with my mum. I’ve got cousins that are going to come and watch as well, so I’ve got quite a lot of family here which is nice.”
The Ivory Coast v Morocco game will be available to watch on BT Sport 3 from 5.15pm on Saturday 11th November.