For about 160 minutes, the goalkeeping situation of the Super Eagles looked to be temporarily over until the unfortunate incident happened on that fateful night at the Singapore National Stadium.
Super Eagles youthful goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho was trying to deal with a cross from the left as Brazil launched forward, only for him to land awkwardly, and just like that, Uzoho’s ligament was damaged which also meant Nigeria’s goalkeeping situation was now the point of discussion again.
For about a year now, the goalkeeping department of the Super Eagles had been an issue with critics not convinced with the quality of the goalkeepers in the team.
2019 AFCON: Football enthusiasts call for fortification of Super Eagles’ goalkeeping department(Opens in a new browser tab)
At the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, Daniel Akpeyi was given the nod over Francis Uzoho and Ikechukwu Ezenwa, but the Kaizer Chiefs shot-stopper did little to convince he is the long term solution to the team’s goalkeeping problems.
He was criticised for not commanding enough clout and looking jittery at important moments. He came under fire after the team lost in the semi-finals to Algeria with many blaming him for Riyad Mahrez last gasp free kick which sent the Desert Warriors to the finals.
After the Africa Cup of Nations, Rohr decided to ditch Akpeyi by going for his former first choice Francis Uzoho. The 20-year-old had been Super Eagles first choice at the 2018 World Cup but was replaced at AFCON due to a lack of action at club level.
But the 20-year-old has since found a new club in Cyprus where he is playing regularly which led to his reinstatement as the country’s number one.
In the two matches, the Super Eagles have played after the Nations Cup, Uzoho was given the nod ahead of his rivals.
Indeed, it was an opportunity he took perfectly well as he was brilliant in the game against Ukraine, making a couple of impressive saves. His performance that night at the Dnipro Arena drew praises from fans, critics and pundits.
He was so good that many called for him to be named the team’s number one permanently. If there were still any lingering doubts about his abilities, Uzoho was given another chance to clear them when Nigeria faced a more superior opponent in Brazil.
Once again, the AC Omonia goalkeeper showed that he has got his career back on track, and can be trusted. He kept Brazil at bay with spectacular saves including a double save from Casemiro and Gabriel Jesus.
However, despite his brilliant performance, his night was short-lived as he was taken off with a knee injury which would eventually rule him out for at least six months.
Uzoho’s injury came at a point when he was starting to establish himself as Super Eagles undisputed No 1. But with his latest injury, Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr now faces the problem of finding the right replacement for the former Elche goalkeeper with just less than a month before the start of the AFCON 2021 qualifiers.
So What are the options available to Rohr?
German-born goalkeeper Maduka Okoye should be the obvious choice normally having come on to replace Uzoho in the Brazil game. But there have been doubts concerning Okoye’s abilities, while critics have argued that the Super Eagles needs a keeper that plays first team football.
The 20-year-old currently plays in the German fourth division for Fortuna Dusseldorf II and that does not do his Super Eagles prospects any good. The fact that he is an option shows how bad Super Eagles are lacking in the goalkeeping department. If that’s not enough to say he is not the right choice, his recent form has shown that he could not be trusted at least for now.
In his last seven games, Okoye has let in 17 goals which means he’s conceding more than two goals per game and that’s such a worrying stat for the Super Eagles. It should also be noted that this is in the German fourth tier which says a lot about his abilities as a goalkeeper.
Although Okoye is just 20 years old and still has room for a lot of improvements, it will be a huge risk on Rohr’s part to throw him into the fray when Super Eagles tackle Benin and Lesotho next month.
Aside from the fact that his current form does not instill confidence, he is also not familiar with African football yet and that could cause a lot of problems if he is given the nod next month.
The style of African teams is different from that of European teams which Okoye is familiar with. Given what happened in Egypt, it won’t be far fetched to say there are no more minnows in African football, and with that, Rohr wouldn’t want to risk an upset by throwing Okoye into the baptism of fire.
With Okoye not looking like an option, Ikechukwu Ezenwa should be next in line, but there are also doubts about his qualities. The Katsina United goalkeeper was the man in goal for most of the World Cup qualifiers, but couldn’t take the opportunity handed to him.
With the NPFL also on break for over four months now, Ezenwa will be lacking not only match fitness, but also games under his belt. While he has the edge over Okoye with his experience of African football, his lack of matches means he will be too much of a gamble to trust against a hungry Benin side.
Ezenwa’s lack of games means Gernot Rohr is left with one choice that may fit the bill at least temporarily and that’s Daniel Akpeyi. While it may sound crazy for Rohr to select Akpeyi especially after his performance in Egypt, the 34-year-old has the edge over the two earlier mentioned, and that makes him a safer option.
The former Chppa United goal tender not only has been playing but also have the experience of playing against African teams. Over the weekend, he was in brilliant form as he saved a penalty in Kaizer Chiefs win over Cape Town city.
Akpeyi may not be the long term solution for Rohr, but he is definitely a much safer option than Ezenwa and Okoye for games against Benin and Lesotho.
Culled from Goal.com