Sparta Rotterdam shot-stopper Maduka Okoye has monopolised the Super Eagles’ number one gloves after rising to prominence in recent years, but one of his predecessors will get the chance to impress tonight
It will be a beautiful sight to watch goalkeeper Francis Uzoho take his place between the goalposts when the Super Eagles trade tackles with Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions on Tuesday.
The clash between the two West African giants is the second leg of the two-series international friendly match organised to keep the sides active ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September.
Nigeria lost the first leg 1-0 to their eternal arch-rivals on Friday, Zambo Anguissa’s strike beating goalkeeper Maduka Okoye moments before the halftime break.
Okoye was not particularly at fault for the opponent’s winning goal, but Nigerian national team head coach Gernot Rohr has confirmed there will be a change of guard in the replay.
It will be Uzoho’s second match for the Super Eagles since his return from the injury that nearly derailed his career in another friendly encounter against Brazil in 2019.
The preferred first choice at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, that nauseous injury kept Uzoho out of all Super Eagles engagements in 2020.
But the former Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper has worked his way back to full fitness and national team reckoning.
The 22-year-old has featured in 18 league matches for Apoel in the Cypriot first division, keeping seven clean sheets.
He was once in Okoye’s shoes – very much on course to become Rohr’s favourite goalkeeper until injury took him off the scene.
And in his absence, Okoye rode on the back of his fine displays in the Eredivisie to seal his place as the Eagles numero uno, despite the close attentions of Enyimba’s John Noble, Heartland’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa, and Orlando Pirates Daniel Akpeyi.
Okoye can laugh off the challenges of these three but not that of Uzoho. The Spartan may be the Super Eagles’ number one goalkeeper at the moment, but Uzoho’s World Cup and Afcon tournaments’ experience will give him the advantage when the going gets tough.
Uzoho didn’t concede a goal in his first game for Nigeria in two years, in the 3-0 defeat of Lesotho in March, and another clean sheet against Cameroon today will add to his merit.
Okoye continues to enjoy Rohr’s support, even if he starts on the bench when the Super Eagles file out against the Indomitable Lions in Austria.
But the 21-year-old can’t afford to go to sleep with Uzoho determined to reclaim the number one gloves.
This is a quiet brotherly rivalry that may remain undecided when Nigeria land in Cameroon next year for the Afcon. And it should still be on should the country qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Whoever wins it, though, will be to the benefit of the national team. And that should be all that matters.