When Vincent Enyeama announced his retirement from the Super Eagles in 2015 after a well publicized rift with then coach Sunday Oliseh, many feared the worst concerning who would be Nigeria’s trusted hands in between the sticks.
Two years on, and with the yet-to-be-confirmed news on Enyeama’s imminent return, there are as many as seven goalkeepers in the frame for a call-up on a possible voyage to Russia next year.
Quite an ambivalent feeling though, because out of the seven goalkeepers knocking repeatedly on the doors of Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr, only three would make the cut, while four will be left behind when the final selection is made.
You might call it a healthy dilemma for Rohr to have as the German surely does have a rich pool of goalkeepers to draw from.
In this write-up, we’ll examine and give our verdict on who these seven goalkeepers are, and their chances of earning a World Cup slot and eventually making it to Vladmir Putin’s nation.
Our ranking is an indication of the order we expect the keepers to be called-up when Rohr announces his final squad, although we are not professional mind-readers, and like you know, one can’t safely predict everything that happens in Football.
7) Dele Sunday Alampasu
When Alampasu represented Nigeria at the FIFA Under 17 World Cup tournament which the United Arab Emirates hosted in 2013, where he went on to clinch the Golden Glove award having conceded five goals in seven games, it was evident that he would one day go on to jostle for a senior cap.
Maligned for his performances against Sweden where he was culpable for the three goals Nigeria conceded in the group stages of that tournament, Alampasu proved what a goalkeeper he could become with good displays that endeared him to fans afterwards.
He made the graduation to the under-20 side and was the undisputed first choice for Nigeria in New Zealand, although the team didn’t progress past the Round of 16, losing 1-0 to Germany.
Four years after coming into prominence, Alampasu has been a regular invitee to the Super Eagles squads in 2017 and seems to be on the mind of Rohr.
Although he has not had enough playing time for his club side Feirense since returning from a loan spell at Portuguese third-tier club FC Cesarense, Rohr seems to have a firm belief that he could do a good job with the National side.
Alampasu made his first senior bow, coming off the bench to replace Ikechukwu Ezenwa in the 3-0 win over Togo in June. He impressed enough in the 20mins action he got and was subsequently called up to face Cameroon, where he was named on the bench for the two World Cup qualifying games.
With Dan Akpeyi making a return from an injury, Alampasu was left out for the game against Zambia, and this is where his World Cup fate hangs. Being a much younger goalkeeper, its hard seeing him crack one of the three places, as even his situation with his club is not helping his case.
Alampasu will take solace in the fact that his time will come, and that if he starts playing regularly for a clubside, he should no doubt, be fighting for a starting place in 2022.
Verdict: Will be left out!
Do you know that Alampasu could have represented Benin Republic where his father migrated from to Nigeria?
6) Oladele Muniru Ajiboye
Another Nigerian goalkeeper who made the step up from the youth ranks. Ajiboye was part of the 2007 Nigerian Under-17 winning squad, saving a spot kick against Spain in the shootout which won the Golden Eaglets the title.
Since then he has been part of the under 20 and 23 squads, but for all his forays in the youth set-ups, it’s only this year that he’s been getting a look-in for the senior team.
Called for the last three World Cup qualifiers, Ajiboye was named on the bench for the games against Cameroon in Uyo and Yaounde, and also for the crunch match against Zambia.
Ajiboye was instrumental in helping his club Plateau United win the Nigerian Professional Football League title in 2017, and was consistent for them throughout the season.
It’s against the backdrop of his performances for Plateau United that he got a call-up from Rohr.
Although its hard seeing him as first choice goalkeeper for the Super Eagles, he knows that making the cut as one of the three goalkeepers would be a huge achievement.
Verdict: Will be left out.
Do you know that some Nigerian fans still call him “Aji-Boy” like the way a TV commentator pronounced his name at the 2007 U-17 World Cup? For those still thinking of the right pronunciation, it is “Ah-Ji-Bo-Oye”!
5) Francis Odinaka Uzoho
Two competitive appearances for Deportivo La Coruna in the Spanish La Liga and Uzoho has been called up for the two games against Algeria and Argentina this month.
He could end up being the ultimate gatecrasher and just nick a place on the plane if he does enough between now and May when the final squad is announced.
Interestingly, Uzoho only made his debut for Deportivo on October 15th, about two weeks ago, and became the youngest ever foreign goalkeeper to play in the La Liga. Before then, he had made just four appearances for Deportivo’s B team in the Segunda División B, and demonstrated his readiness for the big stage with how well he has embraced his new responsibilities.
Although Uzoho was back-up to Alampasu in 2013 and part of the triumphant squad that won the U-17 trophy, not much has been heard about him prior to his latest call-up to the Super Eagles.
With Deportivo’s first choice keeper injured, Uzoho has proven that he can make the best of any chance coming his way, as not many would have believed he could earn a spot ahead of former Manchester City’s Costel Pantilimoon.
Definitely he will be coming to the Super Eagles team knowing that there’s still a place up for grabs, and who knows, if he could earn a place in Deportivo’s starting 11, don’t bet against him making the squad next year.
Verdict: Could be on standby when the team is announced.
Do you know that Uzoho was formerly an attacker but was subsequently converted to a goalkeeper for being: “too slow”?
4) Daniel Akpeyi
Having been in goal for the Dream Team at the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil as Nigeria won Bronze, the country’s solitary medal at the Games, Akpeyi looked like he was well placed for an extended run in the Super Eagles.
Playing his club football for Chippa United in the South African league, it was quite a coincidence that he made his senior debut against South Africa in a friendly in 2015. He put in a spirited display and won over some hearts, but a 2-0 home loss to the same opposition two years later in a Nations Cup qualifier led to some questioning his inclusion.
With Carl Ikeme out of sight, it looked like Akpeyi’s moment of recognition had finally arrived as he was chosen as first choice against South Africa in August. However, an injury ruled him out of the clashes against Cameroon and it was always going to be hard displacing the impressive Ikechukwu Ezenwa afterwards.
With Ezenwa picked over him against Zambia having returned from the injury that sidelined him, Akpeyi is now running out of games to show that he can be the first choice for Eagles.
Although he was blamed by some for the goals conceded against South Africa, Rohr leapt to his defence and said the team collectively didn’t play well enough in that game. Maybe Akpeyi is in his plans; we would know when he announces his team.
Verdict: Akpeyi’s inclusion could be dependent on the availability of Ezenwa, Enyeama and Ikeme.
Do you know that Akpeyi’s role model is Enyeama, and incidentally, the latter could keep him out of the squad to Russia if he completes his comeback.
3) Vincent Enyeama
At the pre-match press conference for the crunch double header against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, journalists were served a much bigger news than the World Cup qualifiers, with Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr announcing the imminent return of Enyeama to the National team.
“I spoke with him. He is ready to come back,” Rohr said, “but he must get fit before. He knows that first of all that is the problem he has. The past is the past. Now is the future,” the German further added.
For clarity, and to be sure Rohr wasn’t mincing words, he was asked by another journalist what he said on Enyeama.
“But unfortunately the injury of Vincent means he cannot come for this game against Cameroon, not only that, he also has to find another club because his club bought two other goalkeepers”, Rohr said.
The journalists who had gathered thinking that they would be reporting on the forthcoming game, had to go back to their beats reporting on Enyeama’s U-turn out of retirement, and what the implication of his return portends.
Make no mistake, Enyeama is a Nigerian legend, and he holds the record caps with 101 appearances for the Super Eagles. However, his fall-out with Oliseh engendered a love-hate situation amongst the fans, which shocked many that after two years of persistent pleas from influential quarters and his rebuffs, he was coming back when World Cup qualification was almost secured.
Since Enyeama made that heroic competitive debut in 2002 in the game against England, he had virtually been unchallenged for the starting shirt till he left in 2015.
No doubt his wealth of experience would bring a lot to the table, having been to three World Cups, but will he be divisive on his return?
There’s no doubt that Rohr who has played a huge role in convincing Enyeama to return, has him firmly in his plans, if not, why go through the hassles of getting him back?
If Enyeama secures a new club in January and plays actively in the next six months, it’s a no brainer that he will make the team to Russia for the mundial.
Verdict: Will make the final cut.
Do you know that as a goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama has scored 20 career goals? 1 for Ibom Stars, 10 for Enyimba FC and 9 for Hapoel Tel Aviv.
2) Ikechukwu Ezenwa
If there’s a better definition of waiting to grasp your opportunity, not many will beat the story of Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
Really, if Akpeyi had not been injured and ruled out against Cameroon, maybe Ezenwa would have settled for just call-ups and not having any impact on the team.
Making his debut off the bench to replace Ikeme in the 2-0 friendly win over Niger Republic, Ezenwa has gone on to make 7 appearances for the senior side.
At the press conference announcing Enyeama’s return, Rohr also made a bold statement in announcing that Ezenwa will be his first choice in goal to face Cameroon.
Although he had respectable performances at the African Nations Championship in 2016, not many aligned with the choice to install him in goal to face Cameroon, but he proved many critics wrong and won some hearts over in the 4-0 thumping over the visitors in Uyo.
However, days later in Yaounde during the return fixture, he gave away a penalty, which brought back trepidation in the minds of fans over his capability to be in goal, but crucially with minutes to go, he literally put himself on the line to make a pivotal block that ensured Nigeria left with a valuable point from that game.
With Akpeyi returning to the side against Zambia, Rohr, unlike in the games against Cameroon, waited till kickoff to announce who will be in goal. Was he having doubts on who should be in goal? Nevertheless, he kept faith with Ezenwa who kept a clean sheet in the tie and has now successfully made a case for himself to be in Nigeria’s team to Russia.
Verdict: Will make the final team to Russia.
Do you know that Ezenwa is the only goalkeeper in the current crop of Super Eagles keepers to have spent his entire professional career in the Nigerian league, dating back 2006?
1) Carl Ikeme
When Enyeama announced his retirement from the Super Eagles, there were genuine concerns over the fate of Nigeria’s goalkeeping department. When Ikeme took on the mantle, it became easier to forget the veteran.
It’s never easy replacing someone who has given a country 13 years of service, and it was always going to be a tough task for the next person filling this void. So when Ikeme got the opportunity, he dazzled.
Having cemented his place in the team, the Nigerian team was downcast when in July this year, Ikeme was diagnosed with acute leukemia after returning abnormal blood tests during a pre-season check-up.
It was a heartbreaking moment for the Super Eagles who looked to have found a suitable replacement for Enyeama, as Ikeme went on to make 10 appearances in just under two years since his first game against Niger Republic.
Ikeme was so crucial for Nigeria that his superlative saves against Zambia helped the Super Eagles secure all three points in Ndola, which set them on the path of World Cup qualification.
While we are no medical experts and can’t say if Ikeme would be medically fit when the World Cup commences, there are indications that he will make the trip if he gets the all-clear signal from his doctors .
At the post-match press conference after Nigeria qualified for the World Cup, Rohr revealed that the team spoke to Ikeme before the game and they hope he will join them to Russia: “We did it for him (Ikeme). We wish that he will come with us to Russia next year” a happy Rohr said after Nigeria qualified for the 2018 World Cup. So there you go, that’s an official confirmation of the first goalkeeper to book his place to Russia.
Verdict: Will make the team to Russia.
Do you know that Ikeme was first called up to the Super Eagles in 2007, but had to wait for 8 years to make his debut for Nigeria?
That’s our assertion on the seven goalkeepers who stand a chance of making it to Russia. By the way do you agree with our ranking?