Is Francis Uzoho the future of Nigeria's goalkeeping?

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With the 18-year old impressing for Deportivo, would he already be a good choice for the Super Eagles?


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When 18-year-old Francis Uzoho made his debut for Deportivo La Coruna against Eibar earlier this month, he became the youngest foreign goalkeeper in the Spanish First Division. He is also the second youngest player to make his bow in the top flight this term, behind Real Madrid’s Moroccan wonderkid Achraf Hakimi.

It was a memorable occasion for Uzoho, as he was able to keep a clean sheet at the first time of asking, making a number of brilliant saves as Depor took a point.

He made his second consecutive appearance against Olarenwaju Kayode’s Girona on Monday at the Riazor, and while his side lost 2-1, he still put in another good performance.

Could already Uzoho be considered for the Nigeria national team despite his age?

With regular number one Carl Ikeme out with acute Leukaemia, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr is left with Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Ajiboye and Dele Alampasu as his current options for the World Cup in Russia. Carl Ikeme

Although Ezenwa kept goal in the double header against Cameroon and against Zambia, it remains to be seen whether he will be between the sticks at the Mundial. Akpeyi's chances of starting appear to be slim following his underwhelming showing in the recent Nations Cup qualifying defeat by South Africa.

Reports of Vincent Enyeama coming out of retirement keeps surfacing but at the time of writing, there’s no concrete sign he’s willing to add to his record 101 international caps.

This is where Uzoho could be presented the opportunity to make his senior bow.

The 18-year old joined Deportivo from Aspire Football Academy in Qatar and was part of the triumphant Nigeria squad at the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Ultimately, he didn’t get to taste any action as he was behind Alampasu and Abdulazeez Abubakar in the pecking order.Pepe Mel

He made four apperances for Deportivo B team, keeping three sheets and was drafted in the senior side when regular goalie Ruben Martinez injured his finger. The experienced Costel Pantilimon was available to take over, but recently sacked Depor coach Pepe Mel decided to stick with the young Uzoho.

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

The teenager could follow in the footsteps of the legendary Peter Rufai, who played for the Deportivo between 1997 and 1999 and had an illustrious career with the Super Eagles where he won the 1994 Afcon and reached the last 16 of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

Peter Rufai, Augustine Eguavoen and Stephen Keshi

The final World Cup qualifier away to Algeria presents a good opportunity to test Francis as, with Nigeria having already qualified, there's nothing at stake for the Super Eagles.

Some might say it’s still too early to involve him because of his age, but Kelechi Iheanacho made his senior bow at the age of 19 and has become a key player today. 

This is the era where youngsters are making their mark way before their peak and goalkeepers aren’t excluded.

David De Gea made headlines at 19 when he made his bow for Atletico Madrid in 2009. Today he is the undisputed number one for Manchester United and Spain.

Gianluigi Donnarumma Buffon Italy

Gianluigi Donnarumma is another goalie who, at just 18, is the next big thing in the Italian Serie A, having made his debut with AC Milan in 2015 aged 16, an Italian top flight record for goalkeeper.

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The wonderkid has become a regular for the Rossoneri and looks set to take the national tem mantle from Gianluigi Buffon once the veteran decides to finally call it a day. Donnarumma is proof that when you're good enough, you're old enough.

In an African context, it's worth noting that Fabrice Ondoa was just 21 when he excelled during Cameroon's run to the Nations Cup title earlier this year, having also been the Indomitable Lions' starting stopper at the continental showpiece in Equatorial Guinea two years ago.

Francis has the quality to write the same kind of story as these aforementioned keepers, and if he continues in his current vein for Depor, then Rohr may have a big decision to make imminently.

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