The goalkeeper is many times the difference between a win and a loss in a football match, because no matter how well the team plays, if he doesn’t do his job well, the team will concede goals and, probably, lose. Also, if a team plays badly, he may just be the saving grace (like David De Gea for Manchester United against Sevilla recently). Going into the World Cup, every team requires at least one outstanding, if not world class goalkeeper; even more so, the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Peter Rufai was imperial during the 1994 World Cup owing to his experience in Europe with the likes of Belgium’s Lokeren and Beveren, as well as Dutch side, Go Ahead Eagles. By 1998 Ike Shorunmu held sway while on the books of FC Basel and FC Zurich in Switzerland, only to miss out of the World Cup party in France through injury. There was also Willy Okpara who had attained legendary status in South Africa with Orlando Pirates.
Rohr closes the door on Enyeama's Super Eagles return
Rohr reiterates Enyeama's World Cup return, set target
Rohr speaks on Enyeama's Eagles' World Cup return
By 2002, Shoronmu was even more experienced having further stints with Lucerne and in Turkey with Besiktas. A young Vincent Enyeama made his debut during this tournament in Nigeria’s third group game – a goalless draw against England, parading the like of Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Michael Owen.
In 2010, Vincent Enyeama returned, tremendously experienced, after honing his massive potential in Israel with Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Tel Aviv. He put up world-class performances to shut out Lionel Messi and claim the man-of-the-match awards in two of Nigeria’s three group stage matches. By 2014 he was captain of the team as one of the leading lights of a poorly selected team which managed to reach the round of 16.
The Super Eagles cannot afford to go to a competition, the magnitude of the World Cup, without an experienced goalkeeper of repute. A sincere scrutiny of our goalkeepers will reveal that none of those in the current crop can be described in the guise of the aforementioned. This does not portend well for a young team going to the World Cup.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa did enough to ensure qualification when he stood in for Carl Ikeme when the latter took ill during the World Cup qualifying series; but Ezenwa clearly hasn’t shown the disposition, influence and composure of a first choice goalkeeper at the World Cup.
For Daniel Akpeyi, who has never truly convinced, to put out such a shambolic display during the friendly match against Argentina, there are no assurances that he can stand the pressure at the World Cup.
A very promising Dele Alampasu has not been given an opportunity to strut his stuff in the Eagles’ (he has not even been invited in recent times) perhaps because he has not been playing for his Portuguese club Feirense. Francis Uzoho emerged on the back of two or three impressive performances in La Liga with Deportivo La Coruna, to give a good account of himself during the second half of the friendly against Argentina. The World Cup is a much bigger proposition than a few La Liga games…
After a two-year stint in Spain, Dele Ajiboye is today easily one of the best goalkeepers in the local league; proving himself with confidence, outstanding reflexes and shoot-stopping ability when he stood in for the injured Ezenwa during the 2018 CHAN. Ajiboye was in goal when Nigeria won the U-17 World Cup in 2007 at the expense of Spain – who had a certain David De Gea in goal…
While not disputing or undermining the abilities of these players, it can be said that none of the current goalkeepers is on the same level as any of those who previously represented the country at the World Cup. This leaves a big question mark on the goalkeeping department of the team.
Vincent Enyeama remains arguably the country’s best ever and currently the most experienced goalkeeper. It would therefore be foolhardy not to utilize his invaluable experience for the benefit of the young team going to a World, as he is still active.
The 1998 experience, where Peter Rufai fumbled at the World Cup when recalled at the last minute to replace the injured Ike Shorunmu, is often given as reason to leave Enyeama out of the upcoming World Cup. The reality is that in the current situation, the options available are not as good as a half-fit Enyeama who, more than just goalkeeping ability, will bring experience and guidance to a very inexperienced team.
Again, unlike in the 1998 scenario, the team a good number of games during which Enyeama can be assessed alongside the other goalkeepers; while the young ones tap into his experience.
As the Super Eagles goes into the last lap of preparations for the World Cup, it is instructive that no stone be left unturned and all sentiments be eschewed in the quest for a formidable team to represent the country in Russia next year. Effectively, it is extremely expedient that Vincent Enyeama be recalled to the Super Eagles’ fold.