Wilfried Zaha has no regrets about turning his back on England in order to play for the Ivory Coast at the African Nations Cup, the Crystal Palace winger said on Tuesday. Zaha switched his international allegiance late last year to compete for the Ivorians, who are bidding to retain their Nations Cup crown at this year's finals in Gabon, which start on Saturday.
He was born in Abidjan, but brought up in London from the age of four, joining Palace when he was 12 and going on to win two caps for England.
“I left for England and I did not return to the country (Ivory Coast). So I did all my schooling in my adopted country and it was most normal that I played for the England youth teams,” Zaha in an interview, published in French on the Ivorian Football Federation’s website.
“For the past four years, I have had ample time to analyse my situation and to take into account the solicitations of the Ivorian Football Association.
“Now I have made my choice. Now I want to play with the Ivory Coast. It has been rewarding, firstly because I am proud to play for my country, then because the Ivorian selection has quality players and has always been a reservoir of talent. So I made the right choice and I do not regret it."
The winger made his debut in a friendly on Sunday, coming on in the second half to set up the winner as the Ivorians beat Sweden 2-1 in Abu Dhabi.
He will likely win a second cap on Wednesday when they complete their preparations with another friendly in Abu Dhabi, against fellow finalists Uganda.
“I want to be able to give the best of myself to the team and contribute with my team mates to winning more titles. I want to be able to offer the country a third Nations Cup, make Ivorians happy. That is my ambition in the short term. Then we need to qualify for the 2018 World Cup,” Zaha said.
Zaha successfully applied to FIFA to change his international status despite playing for England in friendlies against Sweden in November 2012 and against Scotland in August 2013.
The Ivorians play in Group C and begin their campaign on Monday in Oyem against Togo. They will also meet the Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco in the group stage.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Davis)