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SPORTS UPDATE

England U21 striker Folarin Balogun open to Nigeria call-up

England Under-21 striker, Folarin Balogun, has said he would consider playing for Nigeria at senior international level – if the West African country came calling.

The 21-year-old, who is on loan at French club Reims from Arsenal, was born in the United States to Nigerian parents and has represented England at four different youth levels.

But, under Fifa rules, in-form Balogun would be free to switch to represent the Super Eagles because he has not played for the England senior side competitively.

And, despite scoring his seventh goal for the Young Lions in a 3-1 friendly win over Germany in September, Balogun has not ruled out representing Nigeria in the future.

“I haven’t heard anything from Nigeria, but I’m open to anything because Nigeria is very close to my heart,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“My family’s from there. I always have love for Nigeria.”

Nigeria had previously welcomed the possibility of having Balogun in the colours of the three-time African champions.

Back in 2020, then-Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr said he was an exciting prospect who could “add bite” to his attack.

And, despite amassing 11 goals in 26 England caps from U17 to U21 level, Balogun says he will not close the door on Nigeria.

“That’s a conversation that I need to have with people around me, my agent and obviously my family,” added Balogun.

“But if I was asked about the opportunity to play for Nigeria, then I can have that conversation. But first I need to be asked.”

Balogun has been in impressive form for Reims, scoring the opener in their 2-1 win over Auxerre on Sunday to hand the Red and Whites a maiden home victory of the campaign.

“It was such a proud moment and a great feeling to score in front of my family but most importantly to get the win for the team,” he said.

Balogun joined Arsenal’s academy in 2012 and has scored two goals in 10 first-team games for the Gunners.

He made his debut against Dundalk in the Europa League in October 2020, with his first goal came against Molde in the same competition that December.

His contract at The Emirates runs until the end of the 2024-25 campaign, and Balogun spent the second half last season on loan at Championship side Middlesbrough but only scored three times and provided three assists in 21 appearances.

Last month Balogun told BBC Sport that he would love to follow the trajectory of Arsenal team-mate William Saliba and become a first-team regular after his loan spell in France.

And he has made an excellent start to his time in northern France, scoring seven goals in 12 games to lie joint fifth in Ligue 1’s top scorers’ list, behind the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar of Paris St-Germain.

While he has become a fans’ favourite and supporters are keen for him to remain at Stade Auguste-Delaune beyond this season, Balogun is only focussing on his progress.

“I remember before I came here, I had a lot of advice telling me that this would be a good league for me to develop,” added the 21-year-old.

“Now that I am here, I’m seeing the benefits of this league and I’m happy that I can help the team.

“You never know what the future might hold. I just try to focus on what I’m doing with the team and focus on the season.”

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