Since the news that Carl Ikeme was diagnosed with acute leukemia filtered in July last year, Super Eagles’ coaches have been thrust into an unending search for a solid replacement for the Wolves’ goalkeeper. Ikechukwu Ezenwa was handed the glove during the Super Eagles World Cup qualifiers. The Enyimba goalkeeper posted good numbers, not conceding any goal from open play, but he was also unconvincing in certain games, misjudging crosses while displaying questionable decision-making sometimes.
His unsure displays sparked calls for the return of the retired Vincent Enyeama. At the time, the veteran goalkeeper was recuperating from a lengthy layoff caused by his injured knee.
Similar calls were made by majority of the respondents to a recent poll conducted by The Guardian. 54.67 per cent of the 807 respondents preferred to see Vincent Enyeama between the sticks when the World Cup kicks-off in June in spite of him not being in contention at Lille.
But the fans may not get their wish. Gernot Rohr, at first, seemed stoked by the idea of Enyeama’s return to the national side holding out for his full recovery. The coach was not entirely sold on the options he had on hand; all he had to do was convince Enyeama to return from his retirement and there was going to be undisputed quality between the sticks. However, things took a sudden turn when Rohr hinged Enyeama’s awaited return on his playing time.
Prior to Rohr’s volte-face, Enyeama after his return from injury was ostracised alongside 10 others from the first-team by the quirky Marcelo Bielsa. Rohr shut the door altogether on Enyeama’s return at the Aiteo/Nigeria Football Federation Awards in February looking to focus on the other options available.
“He (Enyeama) is not playing anywhere, so we cannot take players who are not playing,” Rohr said.”We are working hard to have the best of our legs taken to Russia and we don’t have the luxury of naming a player that has not been playing in recent time,” Rohr continued.
Ezenwa, who stepped in after Ikeme came down with Leukemia, looked likely to be Rohr’s first choice in goal, despite his foibles. The former Ifeanyi Ubah goalkeeper consolidated with exploits at both the WAFU Cup and the CHAN tournament with the Super Eagles B. But the fans, who responded were not enamoured by his goal-tending skills. Ezenwa, who only got 20 per cent of the votes, was trumped by greenhorn Francis Uzoho, who polled 22 per cent.
Uzoho, 19, has played just 180 minutes of top tier football with Deportivo La Coruna and three games for the Super Eagles.The bulk of his time has been in the third tier of Spanish Football with Deportivo Fabril, the reserve team of Deportivo de La Coruña. The youngster enjoyed time in goal in the Super Eagles recent friendlies against Poland and Serbia. Against Poland, Uzoho rebounded from an uncertain start to keep a clean sheet while there was not much he could do to stop both of Aleksander Mitrovic’s goals.
At the Fabril, Uzoho has kept 12 clean sheets from 19 matches played. His team has conceded the joint least amount of goals (23) in the Segunda Division B – Group 1, with Uzoho conceding just 12.
With a paltry 3.3 per cent, Daniel Akpeyi has little love and confidence from the Super Eagles’ fans. The Chippa United of South Africa goalkeeper has had it tough since the Africa Nations Cup qualifying game against South Africa. Things got worse after he dropped another clanger in the friendly against Argentina, handling the ball outside the area as well as displaying poor position for the resulting free kick.
The Super Eagles obviously need to have the safest pair of hands in Russia but the possibility of Enyeama returning to the team is bleak as Rohr is already focused on the other options available to him.