Football fans were concerned when the news broke that Super Eagles number one choice in goal, Carl Ikeme, would not man the post against Algeria in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier played last weekend. Indeed, the coach of the Desert Foxes was a relieved man with the report that the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ safe hand had been ruled out of the showdown in Uyo, believing that his job would be made easier. However, Daniel Akpeyi, a late replacement, proved more than able as he thwarted most of the efforts of Warriors at the Eagles’ goal area. Kunle Adewale, in this report, asks if the Rio Olympics bronze medalist has warmed his way into the heart of the Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr
Speculations were rife as to who would replace injured Carl Ikeme ahead of Nigeria’s World Cup qualifier against Algeria at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo. However, a day before the encounter, Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr narrowed down his options to Akpeyi and Dele Alampasu, ruling out Ifeanyi Ubah FC’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
“They have some injuries, we also have some injuries –our goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, is not there, but Daniel Akpeyi is a good goalkeeper too,” Rohr said after the team’s final training in Uyo.
When it became clearer that Ikeme would not be manning the posts against Algeria, former goalkeeper trainer, Ike Shorunmu, expressed his dismay that the team would be affected by the absence of its shot-stopper, unless the defenders put in some extra work to protect whoever would be in goal.
Ikeme sustained a hip injury in his club’s draw against Bolton Wanderers and was automatically ruled him out of the game.
While highlighting the brilliant performance of the 30-year-old in Nigeria’s 2-1 victory over Zambia in their first qualifier game, Shorunmu urged the backroom staff to give strict orders to the defenders if the Eagles were to come out victorious against Algeria.
“It is quite unfortunate that Ikeme would not be available for the match due to injury because we all saw his performance against Zambia and that has brought some level of confidence to the team. So, for him to miss the match against Algeria, it will be a big minus to the team. At this point, we just have to give enough support to the remaining goalkeepers, because I don’t know who will be picked by the coaches for the match. However, I will advise the head coach to instruct the defenders to give enough protection to whoever will be in goal against Algeria,” Shorunmu said before the match.
Shorumu, however, said while Ikeme had shown great quality since stepping into the national team set-up, the other three keepers invited to camp were equally good.
“I think everything is about chance, Ikeme seized the opportunity that was given to him even though many did not expect so much, I just hope the keepers available now will also take their chance,” he said.
Akpeyi, however, said he received his late call-up with mixed emotions. “The truth is that I had looked forward to be named in the first list but when it did not come through I kept faith and focused on my club career.”
Algeria’s coach, Leekens had heaved a sigh of relief at the news of the injury to Ikeme before the game would now be having a rethink after Akpeye’s performance.
There were of course those that never doubted the choice of Akpeyi right from the moment he was invited as a replacement for Ikeme. Former Nigeria international, Edema Fuludu said the Chippa United shot-stopper was the best candidate to stand in for injured Carl Ikeme against the Greens
“Well, Carl Ikeme is injured, fortunately, I was able to watch a couple of their training sessions in Abuja before they left for Uyo, Akpeyi is there, Ezenwa is there and also Alampasu,” Edema told Goal.com.
“In the goalkeeping department, we have come to realise that, when Enyeama left, it was like a big vacuum and Carl stepped in, and we have to understand that we don’t change goalkeepers every day.
“So, now that Carl is injured, somebody must take his place and we must have confidence in whoever is going to take his position, but I think that the person, who has consistently been part of the cover for Ikeme for some time is Ezenwa.
“Goalkeeper’s trainer, Aloy Agu drilled the three keepers in camp, and we cannot use one training session to judge them, but from records, Akpeyi is strong enough, Ezenwa is strong enough and even Alampasu is strong enough, but I’m rooting for Akpeyi to be in goal while Ezenwa deputises him.”
After the 3-1 victory against the Dersert Foxes, Rohr promised to make the team’s defence better while backing stand-in goalkeeper, Akpeyi.
The German expressed satisfaction with the performance of Akpeyi. “Daniel had a good game; you can’t blame him for the goal. He was nervous early on but he grew into the game and did well for us.”
How much Akpeyi won the heart of the German tactician and indeed Eagles fans remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, former national team coach, Joe Erico, has backed the Chippa United goalkeeper for a place in the Super Eagles team in subsequent matches.
“Rohr’s choice of Akpeyi was a good one and it shows that his good work at his club is recognised. Nigeria is blessed with good goalkeepers and Akpeyi had proven himself in Uyo.
“Akpeyi may find it easy getting a starting role in Super Eagles’ subsequent games as he was convincing against Algeria. Ikeme became the first choice after the exit of Vincent Enyeama – and he proved his worth, hence the new coach decided to retain him. Enyeama had other challengers when he was first choice but none could outperform him when they had the opportunity that was why he remained the first choice for a long time. Goalkeepers get better with age and Akpeyi is no exception,” Erico said.
Akpeyi would be hoping to continue from where he stopped with Eagles’ next game against Egypt in an international friendly.