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Francis Uzoho’s growing confidence: A plus for Nigeria

16:02 GMT+3 20/06/2018
Francis Uzoho
The youngster had little trouble between the sticks in Kaliningrad at the weekend and should only get better

The Super Eagles' uninspiring form in their warm-up to the World Cup left a lot to be worried about, and it was little surprise that such failings came to the fore in their Group D opener against Croatia.

It was a game that Gernot Rohr’s men should have won, as the Blazers equally had dismal showings in their warm-ups, but a lack of purpose and focus ultimately cost the West African giants in the 2-0 defeat.

While virtually the entire squad deserve some level of criticism, from Odion Ighalo to captain John Obi Mikel to Shehu Abdullahi, one player who kept things cool was Francis Uzoho, and he ought to be praised for his showing.

The Deportivo La Coruna B player was making his debut on the global stage and it was reassuring as none of the two goals scored by Croatia were of his own fault.

Even though he had very little to do all game – a clear sign that Zlatko Dalic’s men did not really threaten - it was reassuring that he kept his composure for much of the game and ensured that there wasn't too much damage beyond the Oghenekaro Etebo own goal and Luka Modric's penalty.

There were fears about the goalkeeping department ahead of the World Cup as each goalie from Uzoho to Ikechukwu Ezenwa to Daniel Akpeyi all had their faults.

However, the wonderkid has now started in six consecutive games for the Super Eagles and is now clearly established as the Eagles' number one.

Looking beyond Russia, the Aspire Academy graduate is still only 19 and has many years ahead of him, unlike his rivals for the No. 1 jersey.

It is indeed a positive sign that Uzoho is growing in confidence as he continues to feature regularly, particularly at such a high level, although there still are some rough edges to iron out.

For example, he needs to initiate quick breaks by releasing the ball much faster, as he is often seen holding the ball a bit too long before releasing it, and this slows down the game, allowing the opponents a chance to regroup.

The former Under-17 world champion also needs to communicate better with his defence, as the Nigerian backline were found wanting too many times against the Croatians.

You imagine that with an experienced campaigner such as Vincent Enyeama behind them, cajoling the defenders and urging them on, the backline's spirits might have been awakened. 

This should come with age, and perhaps in time, Uzoho will follow in the footsteps of Enyeama, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon and Edwin van der Sar, and wear the armband for his team.

The Imo State native is the present and future of Nigerian goalkeeping, and his development will surely improve when he begins playing regularly for a side in one of Europe's major leagues.

Playing for a reserve side in Spain’s third division will not give him the required exposure moving forward, and with the Deportivo senior team having been relegated from the Primera Division last term, a move away from Galicia this summer could be necessary in the near future.

Before then, however, is the Iceland game, where Uzoho will have another ample opportunity to prove that he's up to the challenge of holding the fort for the Super Eagles.