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Francis Uzoho injury is the perfect opportunity for Daniel Akpeyi to prove himself

17:48 GMT+3 06/11/2018
Daniel Akpeyi of Nigeria
With the Elche shot stopper sidelined, the Chippa United man has the chance to redeem his tarnished image

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter
 

Francis Uzoho has firmly become Nigeria’s number one goalkeeper, ending months of instability in that department.

However, concerns over his abilities came to the fore after a below-par performance in the narrow 3-2 victory over Libya in last month’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

He's now been denied the chance to redeem himself, after picking up an injury in Elche's 5-1 drubbing by Cadiz in the Spanish Segunda Division at the weekend.

His showing in that match - where he conceded four goals in 12 minutes - prompted criticism from fans for another poor performance, although he now faces four weeks on the sidelines.

With the Super Eagles set to face South Africa in their next Afcon qualifier, coach Gernot Rohr is just left with Daniel AkpeyiIkechukwu Ezenwa and Theophilus Afelokhai as his options between the sticks.

This is a game the West Africans will be desperate to win after their humiliating 2-0 loss in the reverse fixture in Uyo last June. Indeed, a victory in Johannesburg would guarantee their place at the finals in Cameroon next summer, but how much does the goalkeeping scenario make things trickier?

If there is one person who needs redemption right now it's Akpeyi.

The Chippa United goalie was supposed to take over when former number one and now-retired Carl Ikeme was on the sidelines, although things didn't go to plan.

He put in horror displays in goal including that defeat to Bafana Bafana, a game that raised the red flag on the goalkeeping crisis and saw Ezenwa introduced.

Even though the Enyimba stopper did well initially, his evident flaws and lack of gametime at club level have counted against him, and he too has lost Rohr's faith.

This is where Akpeyi needs to step in and take his chance.

Of all three Nigerian goalkeepers, he is the only one seeing consistent gametime. He played 23 times in the South African PSL last season, keeping 10 clean sheets. In the current campaign, he has made nine top-flight apperances with three clean sheets. This is encouraging, even though the Chilli Boys are just a point off the relegation playoff spot.

Akpeyi does have what it takes putting into context the vast experience he has with the national team, starting from youth level where he was part of the famous Under-20 team that reached the final of the 2005 Fifa World Youth Championship in the Netherlands as well as the Dream Team squad that went for the 2008 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

The 32-year-old also impressed in his senior debut when he took the place of injured Vincent Enyeama in a friendly with South Africa in 2015, drawing plaudits in what was a man of the match performance. He also did well in his first competitive game - a 2017 Afcon Qualifier away to seven-time African champions Egypt - even though it ended in a 1-0 defeat which meant that the Super Eagles didn’t make it to Gabon.

Since then, the decline has been stark, with Akpeyi reaching the nadir with a dismal error against Argentina in Nigeria's 4-2 friendly victory in Krasnodar in November. After that, he plummeted down the pecking order, and hasn't been seen since.

It's surprising and disappointing that Akpeyi - a goalkeeper with such potential - did not seize the limelight when he had his moment, as Enyeama had done in 2002 to become Nigeria’s undisputed number one. Nick Pope did likewise at Burnley last season, taking the place of Tom Heaton after his seven-month lay-off with a shoulder injury, with the Clarets finishing an all-time high seventh place in the Premier League and qualifying for the Europa League.

Uzoho's injury gives Akpeyi an unlikely second chance to stake his claim to be the Eagles' No. 1 again.

If he can't take this opportunity, considering Uzoho's age and promise, the chance may never come again.