Spain demolished Argentina 6-1 same day Serbia taught Super Eagles some football lessons via a 2-0 defeat. Argentina has world class goalkeepers in Sergio Romero of Manchester United and Willy Caballero of Chelsea. Both goalkeepers were in goal when Isco led the rout with a hattrick. Romero was substituted in the 22nd minute as Caballero took the remaining bashing from the Spaniards.
We didn’t hear that Argentina will drop both goalkeepers ahead of Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup. But today, Francis Odinakachukwu Uzoho is on the firing line for letting in two goals against Serbia in London. Here is a goalkeeper who stepped in for the first time for Super Eagles in a major friendly against Argentina. Super Eagles were two goals down when he was introduced as Daniel Akpeyi had conceded both goals. Uzoho had a clean sheet as his brilliant performance propelled Eagles to conquer Argentina 4-2 in Russia.
The goalkeeper was roundly praised for a great debut. Naturally, he was asked to man the post in the next international friendly against Poland in Wraclow. Again, he had a clean sheet as Eagles beat their host 1-0. Again, Uzoho was applauded. Few days after, he had a bad game in London against Serbia and hell was let loose. Critics reminded us that Uzoho is the fourth choice goalkeeper in Deportivo La Coruna. They said he looks older than 19 years, his age. They said he lacks the experience to be in goal for the World Cup bound Super Eagles. They reminded Gernot Rohr of options and likely replacement for Uzoho. They went on and on…
I dare ask, is Uzoho the worst goalkeeper among the three already picked by Rohr? If he is not 19, can his critics simply tell us how old he really is? If he is in a third tier club or the fourth choice goalkeeper in his club, does that disqualify him from making the Russia party? If he is inexperience, how come he kept clean sheets against two time World Cup champions Argentina loaded with Sergio Aguero, Di Maria, Dybala and Higuain among others, and Poland with deadly Robert Lewandowski?
We have all known before the London friendly that the goalkeeping department is Super Eagles major headache. Trouble started when Carl Ikpeme was diagonized with blood cancer (leukemia). The search for his replacement as first choice commenced. Ikechukwu Ezenwa was discovered. But Daniel Akpeyi was suspect. A vacuum was created that needed to be filled. We directly or indirectly called for the recall of Vincent Enyeama which was coldly turned down. Those close to Rohr revealed that his employers told him clearly that the doors have been shut at Enyeama. They said he would be a bad influence on the team. They added that any other goalkeeper will do but certainly not Enyeama. Rohr had no choice but to fill the gap leading to the World Cup.
This was how Uzoho emerged. So far, the lad has not done badly to be kicked out of the team. All he needs from us is encouragement and not condemnation or distraction. We are just 50 days away from the World Cup. These are indeed critical times. Rohr needs a calm atmosphere to take good decisions. We need to guide him with constructive criticism and honest advice. Bringing on the duo or one of the duo of Austin Ejide and Dele Ayenugba now is not entirely a bad idea but we must understand or appreciate that they will have to adjust to Rohr and the team’s style and attitude. Do we have ample time for such “orientation”? It is upto Rohr to decide. Whatever he decides we must abide with because he is the man incharge.
Back to Uzoho. When Enyeama kept against England at Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup he was a home based goalkeeper without a World Cup experience. From there onwards he improved. Uzoho is not home based. He is in Spain with a respected club and in a major league. He is still learning. He can do better in Russia than Enyeama did in Korea/Japan against England.
David de Gea of Manchester United joined the club as a teenager. He was given the chance to improve and today he is Spain’s first choice ahead of experienced and much more older Pepe Reina. De Gea is one of the best and youngest goalkeepers as we approach the World Cup in Russia.
Let’s give Uzoho a chance….Let’s stop these distractions!
By Desmond Ekwueme