Dike's wild 2012 culminates with "amazing" Nigeria debut

From being sent on loan to a USL side, all the way to starting for the Nigerian national team in an international friendly, Bright Dike’s 2012 has been anything but uneventful.

The big Portland Timbers striker made his international debut Wednesday in the Super Eagles’ 3-1 victory over Venezuela in Miami. Now Dike, who less than six months ago was relegated to the third-tier LA Blues to hone his skills, is hoping he made enough of an impression on Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi to become a fixture for the Super Eagles in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

“It was an amazing feeling to be out there,” Dike told MLSsoccer.com after traveling from Miami to his home in Oklahoma following the game for the Thanksgiving holiday. “Five months ago, I was on loan, and I think we wouldn’t even be talking about this if the Timbers and Gavin [Wilkinson, general manager] didn’t give me the opportunity at the end of the season. So I definitely have to give them a big thanks for that.”

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Dike, a native of Edmond, Okla., whose parents were born in Nigeria, hadn’t been in contact with the Nigerian team at all, but he began hearing buzz from his extended family in Africa that the organization was following his late-season success with the Timbers. After rejoining Portland in August, Dike scored five goals in the team’s final 11 games.

“I was just so happy when I got the call,” Dike said. “Any time you get a chance to represent your country, or any country for that matter, it’s such a great feeling of pride and honor and privilege.”

Dike said sharing the pitch with such elite talent was just icing on the cake. Nigeria feature a number of players from the English Premier League, Serie A and La Liga, including Newcastle’s Shola Ameobi, Braga’s Elderson (with whom Dike roomed on the trip), Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi, Real Betis’ Igiebor Nosa and Chelsea’s Victor Moses.

“So many really good players there, and I definitely loved to talk to them and hear their insights and their different views on how they judge things,” Dike said. “When you have so many different viewpoints on the game and see different styles of play and get exposed to that I think it really opens up your mind to a lot of different perspectives, so I really enjoyed being there.”

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Dike said he hopes to join Nigeria in Lisbon, Portugal, for their training camp in preparation for the Cup of Nations in January. Until then, however, he said he’s going to use his experience with the Super Eagles to keep improving with his club.

“Right now I’m just more focused on improving myself because when you play at that level you kind of see what it takes to play at the international level,” he said. “And I think I’m not far off. I think there’s definitely some things I can fix and I think you learn from playing in something like that. That experience is only going to make you better. I’m really focused on coming back next season and gaining a starting spot.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.

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