Goal.com profiles the five players still present in Stephen Keshi's plans for the national team who have earned the most caps while on international dutyANALYSIS
By Joan Iwuchukwu
A few weeks ago, Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama marked a decade of service to the Super Eagles. It was a milestone for the Lille goalkeeper, who came into the team during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Several players have given years of service to the west African nation in the past - Nwankwo Kanu spent 16 years in the national team, while present coach Stephen Keshi dedicated 12 years of his life to the Eagles.
During the difficult times, some of these players have questioned the logic behind giving so much, but at the same time receiving so little praise back home.
In this article, Goal.com profiles the longest-serving players in the current Nigeria squad, and reflects on how their careers have been shaped by their duty to the country.
|5. TAYE TAIWO
Years active: Eight
No. of caps: 53
Festac-born Taye Taiwo has been a consistent part of the Super Eagles side since he made his debut in 2004. He replaced Ifeanyi Udeze and has since had a remarkable impact on the team at left-back. Known for his powerful shots and free kicks, Taiwo has played under a myriad of coaches, though he has featured only once under current coach Stephen Keshi to date.
The defender has represented his country on 53 occasions, and scored five times. At 27 years of age, he is receiving very stiff competition from home-based rival Juwon Oshinawa, while Elderson Echiejile is keen to compete with the stalwart.
|4. JOHN UTAKA
Years active: 10
No. of caps: 43
Utaka returned to the fold of the Super Eagles in June 2012 having been overlooked since the end of the 2010 World Cup. The Montpellier striker’s national team career was resurrected due to his impressive performances in helping his team win the Ligue 1 title last season.
Stephen Keshi fielded him for the Eagles’ matches against Namibia and Malawi, giving him an opportunity to mark a decade in the service of his country. Utaka made his debut in 2002 and has played at three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. One of his most memorable moments was when he scored the winning goal in the 2-1 win over Cameroon in the quarter-final of Tunisia 2004.
|3. PETER ODEMWINGIE
Years active: 10
No. of caps: 54
One of the youngest players to have played for the national team, Odemwingie was born in Uzbekistan but chose to play for Nigeria. He was taken to the 2002 World Cup as a backup player. Since then, the pacey striker has amassed 54 caps and scored nine goals for the Super Eagles.
His competitive debut came as a substitute in a 3-0 victory over Kenya on May 4, 2002 aged just 20. At the 2004 Afcon, he scored twice against South Africa, in the 80th and 82nd minutes, after coming on as a substitute in the Super Eagles' first match of the competition. He has played in a total of four Afcons and at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Odemwingie has had a number of high-profile spats with national team coaches Amodu Shaibu, Lars Lagerback and Samson Siasia, but despite the friction with some managers, he has been a loyal servant to his country.
|2. VINCENT ENYEAMA
Years active: 10
No. of caps: 65
The Lille goalkeeper is the second longest-serving Super Eagles player in the current squad. He marked 10 years in the national team ahead of the World Cup qualification match against Malawi in June.
He was picked for the 2002 World Cup by Adegboye Onigbinde as a cover for Ike Shorunmu and played one match in that tournament, keeping a clean sheet against England. That encounter will be remembered fondly for his save from a David Beckham free kick. He has been first choice for the national team ever since, except on rare occasions when he was either injured or excluded from the team on disciplinary grounds.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa will also prove memorable for the way he virtually single-handedly made sure that Argentina’s Lionel Messi did not score against his nation. He helped a Nigerian club win the Caf Champions League for the first time with Enyimba FC of Aba in 2003 and 2004. At 29 years of age, and as a goalkeeper, Enyeama could be in the Nigerian reckoning for many more years.
|1. JOSEPH YOBO
Position: Central defender
Years active: 11
No. of caps: 87
Once a striker at Under-20 level, captain Joseph Yobo is currently the longest-serving Super Eagle and has made history as the player with the most number of appearances for the national team, 87. The player who started his career with Michelin FC has indeed come a long way since he stood up against George Weah of Liberia in a 2002 World Cup qualifier in Port Harcourt playing as a right-back.
He made his World Cup debut in 2002 in Japan and South Korea and famously provided the cross for Julius Aghahowa to score against Sweden, Nigeria’s lone goal in that tournament.
At 31 years of age, he could get to the magical century of international caps if he can motivate the team to qualify for the 2013 and 2014 Afcon tournaments, and the World Cup in Brazil. Having won three Afcon bronze medals, Yobo has declared that he wants to win a major trophy with Nigeria before he considers retiring.Follow Goal.com Nigeria on