The Super Eagles of Nigeria claimed a 4-2 win over Argentina on Tuesday but did have to claw their way back from two goals down. In what has become a recurring headache for coach Gernot Rohr since Carl Ikeme was diagnosed with acute leukemia, there hasn’t been any solid option for the goalkeeping position.
The German tactician ultimately gave the nod to Daniel Akpeyi – who has low approval ratings among Nigerian fans having consistently been making blunders when called upon.
It was probably the perfect time for the Chippa United man to redeem his negative image and win the hearts of fans back…but sadly, it was going to be the same old story.
Now notoriously, he attempted to take a goal kick but Sergio Aguero closed the gap, and Akpeyi quickly picked up the ball up having forgotten that it was outside his area. He was (leniantly) booked for his offence, a free kick was given for Argentina, and Ever Banega converted to give Jorge Sampaoli’s men the lead.
Even for the South Americans second goal, Akpeyi was mute when Cristian Pavon’s cross found Aguero – who tucked the ball home with consummate ease.
With Nigeria down 2-1 at half time, Rohr decided to bring in 19-year old Francis Uzoho for Akpeyi, and things improved.
The Deportivo La Coruna youngster was very composed on his debut. He had better handling of the ball and showed good reflexes. The defence looked more organised with the Aspire Academy graduate between the sticks, and his ball distribution led to some nice counter attacking moves.
In as much as Uzoho impressed, it is not to get carried away and think he is the man moving forward. He does have a bright future ahead of him but with the World Cup fast approaching, Rohr needs to have his strongest squad available if the Super Eagles aim to impress.
The number of games to be played between now and June when the mundial kicks offs might not be enough to sort things out and this is where Nigeria must do everything in their power to recall Vincent Enyeama.
The record-capped Nigerian called time on his national duties in 2015 after a fallout with then-coach Sunday Oliseh. There have been several attempts to lure the 35-year-old back since, with Senate President Bukola Saraki writing to him to rescind his decision. To date, Vinny has not heeded the call.
Efforts need to be intensified to bring him back, because he is the best bet at making sure Nigeria’s outing at the World Cup could be memorable for the right reasons considering his past experiences, especially against Argentina. He memorably dazzled in 2010, keeping Lionel Messi quiet and winning the man of the match award.
Although it’s true that Enyeama has not had any significant game time this season having battled with injury and being frozen out of the Lille first team, his vast experience will enable him to get into the thick of things immediately should he be recalled.
At 44 years, he became the oldest player to feature at the continental showpiece, bringing back his heroics of old as the North Africans made it to the final. With Egypt reaching the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, El-Hadary will be part of the squad and will be looking to make history as the oldest player at the event, by which time he would have turned 45.
The Super Eagles aren’t in the best shape just yet, even though it can be said that this is one of the most exciting and entertaining squads in recent times.
The performance in Krasnodar confirmed that, but the goalkeeper dilemma must be solved, and continues to cast a shadow over the team’s World Cup preparations.
In an ideal situation, Vincent Enyeama would be the short-term fix that will ensure Nigeria have a good World Cup, while Uzoho can be his understudy within that period, getting valuable experience from the 101-capped man ahead of his own long career as the Eagles’ No. 1.
The decision (and ability) to recall Enyeama could be the key factor in deciding whether the Nigeria side that heads to Russia can match or surpass the nation’s greatest performances at the tournament to date.
Rohr has put the Eagles firmly on the path towards a promising tournament, but he must get his best man between the sticks between now and next summer.