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
With the Super Eagles set to face South Africa in their next Afcon qualifier, coach Gernot Rohr is just left with Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu 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.
I have said it over and over again, Daniel Akpeyi has no business in the Super Eagles. 😡😡😡
— Shina Oludare (@sportingshina) November 14, 2017
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.
Now listen, Daniel Akpeyi DESERVES to start vs South Africa.
Let the lad rewrite his wrong in the first leg, playing in Jo’burg will even make it feel like home.
— MikeThePundit (@MikeThePundit) November 6, 2018
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.
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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.