Nigeria’s Super Eagles return to action in the 2022 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers when they take on Benin Republic and Lesotho on March 27th and 30th respectively to close out their qualifying campaign for the tournament proper billed to hold in Cameroon.
Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr in an interview prior to his announcment of the roster for the games implied that there would be no real changes to the players called up for November’s double-header against Sierra Leone. This was met with disapproval from a lot of the Super Eagles fans as a result of the gaping issues found in that squad which drew both games against the Lone Stars.
One of the first and most important issues is in the goalkeeping department. Nigeria’s present first choice in goal is Sparta Rotterdam’s German-born shot-stopper, Maduka Okoye. The 21 year old has not faced any real competition for his spot since he was drafted into the Super Eagles fold as other Nigerian goalkeepers in Europe rarely get enough minutes on the pitch to keep them sharp. Dele Alampasu, Francis Uzoho and Tobias Lawal are three Europe-based goalkeepers who have received call-ups in recent times, and they have a combined 15 appearances for their clubs, while Okoye has made 16 league appearances for his Dutch side. However, in the games against Sierra Leone, he did not really cover himself in glory as he let in some questionable goals.
The last Super Eagles rosters have hardly featured any players from the domestic league owing to the extended COVID-19 break in the league, but the league restarted in December 2020, and a number of goalkeepers have shown their qualities for their clubs. Former Enyimba and Super Eagles goalie, Dele Aiyenugba now plies his trade in the NPFL with Kwara United where he has kept 5 clean sheets in 9 games. At 37 years of age, he has the international experience needed to give Okoye a push in the Super Eagles, if called up.
The Franco-German tactician Rohr needs to get the best out of Okoye, as the upcoming games are key to the Super Eagles’ chances of qualifying for the next African Cup of Nations, and to do so, he may need to make his position less comfortable.