By Sulaiman Alao:
Nigeria’s preparation for the crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against Algeria scheduled for the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo this weekend, suffered a heavy blow when news filtered in during the week that Super Eagles first choice goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme will not be available for the game because of injury.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers goaltender officially wrote to the Nigeria Football Federation asking to be excused from the game so that he can fully recover from the hip injury he sustained in a Championship clash with Blackburn Rovers last weekend where he was taken off at half time. South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi has been rather hastily, named as Ikeme’s replacement and the question is if the Chippa United goalkeeper will be able to cope with the pressure of the high profile game?
Since the untimely and forced retirement of former Eagles number one goalkeeper and captain, Vincent Enyeama, it was Ikeme’s heroics between the sticks that has made Nigerians football fans not to really feel the impact of Enyeama’s exit as the Wolves goalkeeper has proven himself capable replacement for the Lille of France goalkeeper. It would be recalled that Ikeme’s performance earned him the man of the match in the 2-1 win against Zambia last month after pulling off several game-defining saves.
Even though Enyeama’s retirement was untimely and ‘forced’ by the circumstances prevailing in the Eagles camp at the time, the Nigerian football authorities would rather not revisit the issue preferring to rather let the sleeping dog lie, notwithstanding that the erstwhile coach, Sunday Oliseh whose decision ‘forced’ Enyeama to quit the team had since resigned his appointment with the national team.
It took the coming of expatriate coach, Gernot Rohr to try and re-open the Enyeama case with the tactician having made his intentions known that he is considering the possibilities of bringing back the estranged goalkeeper into the Eagles fold. Whatever must have informed Rohr’s thinking was not shared by many and for obvious reasons but Ikeme’s sudden unavailability for the Algeria cracker has forced many to start raising eyebrows regarding the abilities of the other goalkeepers in the Eagles fold. In recent times, the likes of Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC IfeanyiUbah), Dele Alampasu, Emmanuel Daniel (Enugu Rangers) and Olufemi Thomas (Enyimba International) have all been invited to the national team camp.
With Ikeme out of this weekend’s game, Akpeyi is being favoured to man the post against the visiting Algerians. What is however, surprising is that the South Africa-based goalkeeper was not on the initial list of invited players. With Ezenwa and Alampasu initially named as the alternate goalkeepers alongside Ikeme in the 23-man squad, one wonders why Akpeyi is now preferred ahead of the duo.
This no doubt calls to question the process of inviting players to the national camp as the scenario paints a picture that Ezenwa and Alampasu only made the initial list just to make up the numbers. If Akpeyi, for whatever reasons, is considered better than the duo of Ezenwa and Alampasu, why was he not on the initial list? I think Eagles goalkeeper trainer, Alloy Agu has a case to answer here. And if the Eagles handlers have suddenly developed cold feet to field any of the other previously-listed keepers but have to scurry an invitation to an ‘initially-overlooked’ Akpeyi, why not as well extend such an invitation to Enyeama whom Rohr has been nursing the hopes of luring back into the Eagles? Had the Glass House officials considered reconciliation moves with Enyeama as beneficial to the Eagles cause, we wouldn’t be sweating by now to fill Ikeme’s place with another quality goalkeeper whose presence can inspire confidence in his teammates.
Now that we are stuck with Akpeyi who is a good goalkeeper in his own rights, I pray the occasion doesn't overwhelm him. Nigeria go into this weekend’s game with the double advantage of currently sitting atop the Group B table of the qualifiers and also playing at home. The coaches should do whatever is necessary to psyche Akpeyi and the entire team up for the task at hand. Nothing short of victory will be good enough towards ensuring the Eagles unhindered flight to Russia next year.
Good luck to the Super Eagles.