Godfrey Oboabona: Standing tall in Nigeria’s defence

The Sunshine Stars captain has brought stability to the back line of the Eagles at the Afcon, ensuring Nigeria’s passage into the final and will hope for a career defining game
 Lolade Adewuyi
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Before the tournament began, not many people could lay claim to knowing Nigeria’s defensive ace Godfrey Oboabona. However, the new boy is merely the next product in the Super Eagles’ production line of top class centre backs. Players like Uche Okechukwu, Stephen Keshi, Austin Eguavoen, and Ben Iroha were part of the all-conquering 1994 squad.

Proving his mettle on the big stage, the 22 year-old captain of Sunshine Stars in the Nigeria Premier League has come into this tournament buoyed with confidence having led his club to consecutive semi finals in the Caf Confederation Cup and Champions League.

“Any creative manager will like Oboabona for his versatility. The only position he didn’t play was in goal. I’ve used him in the midfield, both sides of the defence and even as an attacker,” said former Sunshine Stars coach Gbenga Ogunbote.

Even though he is one of the less glamorous members of the Super Eagles squad, Oboabona’s work in central defence has been admirable.

Discovered in rustic Ondo town by the Rising Stars Academy when he was playing for St James College, Godfrey later went to play for rivals Sunshine Stars. One of seven children, Oboabona’s father is a retired civil servant while his mother is a trader.

With fitness doubts hanging over Super Eagles’ skipper Joseph Yobo before the tournament, Godfrey has been able to provide the necessary cover that the backline has needed in crucial times.

He partnered Yobo in the opening Group C game against Burkina Faso and made good tackles and clearances ahead of the sluggish Yobo, who many feared had still not reached peak fitness. It was Oboabona that brought stability to the defence even though he was blamed in some quarters for the late goal that Alain Traoré scored in that encounter after right back Efe Ambrose had been sent off.

Being paired with youngster Kenneth Omeruo in subsequent matches, Nigeria’s central defence has become strong, bold and fast. The duo is confident, and has grown to understand each other.

Their immense work rate is evidenced by the way they kept a close watch on the big stars of Cote d’Ivoire in that tournament-changing quarter final game in Rustenburg. They kept Didier Drogba from firing on all cylinders, making the Chelsea legend look ordinary.

Heading into the game against the Elephants, Oboabona was asked about his plan to challenge the mighty Drogba. His response: “As a footballer I’m not scared of names, I have played against Xavi, Busquets, and Pique, Drogba or no Drogba, due respect to him, but for me I don’t look at names when I’m on the field of play.”

Consoling Drogba | Oboabona will hope to also keep the Burkinabe quiet on Sunday

Backed by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who has been calling the shots in back, Oboabona and Omeruo have grown more confident as the tournament has progressed. Alongside full backs Elderson Echiejile and Efe Ambrose, Nigeria’s defence has been full of vigour.

It is no doubt that Oboabona has had a massive tournament already. However, in Sunday’s final against Burkina Faso, he will have the opportunity to once again come face to face with Jonathan Pitroipa, the player that opened up Nigeria’s defence in that first game, and so tormented the youngster.

Godfrey will play the biggest game of his life knowing that it could be the pivotal moment in the career of a small town boy.

The Sunshine Stars captain has brought stability to the back line of the Super Eagles at the Afcon, ensuring Nigeria’s passage into the final and will hope for a career defining final on Sunday