Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr may have given an indication of who will take charge of goalkeeping duties at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
For several weeks after the senior national team qualified for the World Cup, the million dollar debate among football aficionados in the country is who takes over the gloves in Russia for the Super Eagles?
Though Enyimba net-minder Ikechukwu Ezenwa consistently put in some inspiring performances during the qualifiers, the emergence of a certain teenager, Francis Uzoho with La Liga experience meant the goalkeeping spots may still be up for grabs ahead of the trip to Russia.
With little option for the German tactician, Rohr has sent one of the team’s goalkeeper trainers, Pionetti Enrico to team up with Uzoho at Deportivo La Coruna, Spain in a bid to get the 19-year-old ready for the big summer. The development perhaps is a huge pointer to the fact that the Super Eagles coach may have decided on his first choice keeper for the tournament.
Despite the plethora of options in the Eagles setup, the goalkeeping department remains a grey area for the German tactician who has acknowledged, severally, its lack of depth.
For some weeks, some Nigerians including this columnist clamoured for the return of veteran goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama to the national team set-up. With preferred first choice keeper, Carl Ikeme yet to recover from leukemia and the erratic display of South Africa based Daniel Akpeyi in goal for the Eagles; it became imperative for Rohr to keep his goalkeeping options open.
Rohr, put an end to the debate on Enyeama by ruling him out of a return as the former captain last played top flight football in January 2017.
Now that time is fast ticking and Enyeama and Ikeme unlikely to be fit in time for Russia, the battle for the first choice is a straight one between Ezenwa and the much younger Uzoho.
Perhaps in a move to enhance the sharpness of the Deportivo keeper, Enrico who joined the Super Eagles six months ago will work on the young goalkeeper ahead of the global showpiece.
Last November, Uzoho was handed his debut in Nigeria’s friendly against Argentina in Krasnodar and the 19-year-old kept the second half of the game as the Eagles came back from a 2-1 deficit before the break to secure a 4-2 victory.
The former Golden Eaglets net-minder has kept 10 clean sheets out of 14 matches and has conceded seven goals for the Deportivo B side this campaign. He has also played twice in the Spanish top-flight, making his debut against Eibar on October 15.
The debut of Uzoho for Deportivo last October was largely celebrated by the Nigeria Football Federation, coach Rohr and football enthusiasts in the country. The news of Ikeme’s illness jolted many of us and the emergence of Uzoho in La Liga was a sort of relieve but that joy may have been short-lived as the keeper has continued to struggle for game time in recent months. Except something positive happens at the Spanish club in the coming weeks, it will be suicidal for Nigeria to parade a teenage keeper that is match-rusty at the World Cup.
From what I have seen of Uzoho, the former U-17 player is a good keeper with a bright future in the round leather game. Unlike his former U-17 teammate, Dele Alampasu who has made little progress in Europe, Uzoho at a relatively young age may have cemented his place in the senior national team.
With Nigerian-born goalkeepers short in supply in Europe and commanding net-minder scarce in the domestic league, Uzoho is expected to enjoy over a decade experience with the senior national team Enyeama.
Though blessed with a commanding height and sharp reflexes, Uzoho is a work in progress and at a relatively young age of 19, he may not be the world class goalkeeper Nigerians crave at the World Cup.
However, if he stays fit and continue to work on his game, the former schoolboy international may end up enjoying a more blissful career with the senior national team that his role model, Enyeama, Peter Rufai or any other former Super Eagles keeper.
Though the future is definitely bright for the Deportivo La Coruna youngster but I will like to caution that Rohr must give Ezenwa and other keepers in the team a fair and equal treatment to vie for the first choice ahead of Russia 2018.
For Nigeria to make any headway and at least progress beyond the group stage at the World Cup, it is imperative to have our safest hands between the sticks.
Whether it is Uzoho, Ezenwa or any other keeper that would mind the net for the Eagles, only time will tell.