A New Goalkeeper for Super Eagles?

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Francis Uzoho 

In spite of booking 2018 World Cup ticket slated for Russia with a match to go, one area that has been given the Gernot Rohr and his coaching crew sleepless night is the goalkeeping department. Ahead of Nigeria’s last qualifier against Algeria and the high profile friendly against Argentina on November 10 and 14 respectively, the German tactician has turned his attention to18-year-old Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, who has only made three appearances for the La Liga side. Kunle Adewale reports

With one match left, the Super Eagles have booked the ticket to Russia 2018 World Cup, yet, there are still worries about the quality of the team, especially in the goalkeeping area.

During the qualifying matches, three goalkeepers were on parade- Carl Ikeme, who lost out to acute leukaemia, Daniel Akpeyi, who was shaky against Algeria in Uyo and Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who Rohr has no total confidence in. Dele Ajiboye and Dele Alampasu are considered outsiders.

Rohr has now beamed his searchlight on 18-year-old Deportivo La Coruna’s Francis Uzoho.

 Therefore, ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Algeria and the international friendly game against Argentina, Uzoho has been handed his first Nigerian call-up after making his La Liga debut in La Coruna’s 0-0 draw with Eibar on October 16.

Uzoho was extended an invite for the Super Eagles’ last Russia 2018 qualifying match against the Desert Foxes on November 10 and a friendly against Jorge Sampaoli’s star-studded Albiceleste four days later.

According to a statement on the club’s website, “Francis Uzoho, a goalkeeper who recently debuted in an official match with RC Deportivo, has been called up for the first time by Nigeria, for the last qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup and a friendly.”

In an interview with THISDAY, former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Christian Obi warned against selecting players on sentiment ahead of the World Cup, saying that in the area of goalkeeping, age and experience count a lot.

“With the World Cup just around the corner, the Super Eagles coaching crew should shun selecting players based on sentiment. The Mundial is the pinnacle of football; it is therefore not a tournament for an 18-year-old boy, most especially in the area of goalkeeping. It is a very crucial aspect of the team. He is the one that sees the whole field better than the other players and can chip in advice to his teammates when and where necessary. You need a very experienced person to do this kind of job and not a kid,” the 2005 FIFA U-20 Youth Championship bronze winner warned.

Continuing, he said, “After our exploit in the U-20 World Cup in Russia, some of us were drafted into the senior national team, and as an 18-year old then, I was not given the opportunity to keep for the Super Eagles until after many years in camp. I was just there as an understudy to the older and more experienced goalkeepers, before I eventually got my chance after the coaching crew felt I had matured and amassed enough experience. So, the fact that Francis Uzoho has been in goal in three matches for Deportivo La Coruna, owing to injury to first choice goalkeeper is not enough to merit a national team call-up.

 “I think an invitation to the junior team would rather be more appropriate for Uzoho to show Nigerians the stuff he’s made of, from then he can graduate to the national team. I will advise the Super Eagles coaching crew to stick to Apeyi and Ezenwa, support them with the experience of Vincent Enyeama depending on his form, but not a goalkeeper who is just cutting his teeth in goalkeeping.”

Uzoho, a former Golden Eaglets goalkeeper became the youngest foreign goalkeeper to ever play in La Liga in a memorable Deportivo La Coruna debut after keeping a clean sheet in his club’s 0-0 draw at Eibar.

The 18-year-old, who arrived at the club from Qatar’s Aspire Academy in January, produced four important saves to help Deportivo claim a point.

“A day that will never disappear from my memory – my debut – thanks all for the support,” he said.

At 18 years 11 months and 17 days, he becomes the second youngest player in La Liga this season, behind Real Madrid’s Moroccan defender, Achraf Hakimi – who made his debut at 18 years 10 months 27 days earlier this month.

After regular first-choice goalkeeper, Ruben, suffered a finger injury, Deportivo boss Pepe Mel opted for the Nigerian ahead of the experienced Costel Pantilimon and was impressed by the youngster.

“A coach has to act according to the things he sees in training. He is only 18 and he can barely speak Spanish but I know what he can offer this club,” Mel said.

Uzoho was born on October 28, 1998. He joined Qatari Aspire Academy in 2013 when he was 14. Uzoho started his footballing career as an attacker but was converted to a goalkeeper after being deemed “too slow” at the age of 12. In 2016, after impressing on a tournament in Barcelona, he joined Deportivo de La Coruna’s Juvenilsquad.

Age rules meant that Uzoho could only become available to sign a contract with Dépor in January 2017; shortly after signing his contract, he started to train with the first team and was promoted to the reserves ahead of the new season. He made his senior debut on September 10 in a 3–0 Segunda Division B home win against Real Madrid Castilla.

Uzoho made his first team and La Liga debut on 15 October in a 0–0 away draw against Eibar. At the age of 18 years and 352 days, he became the youngest ever foreign goalkeeper to debut in La Liga, and the second-youngest player to appear in the league behind Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi.