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Ikechukwu Ezenwa is fast becoming a popular national figure having made his debut for the Super Eagles in the 4-0 triumph over Cameroon in September, taking the place of error-prone Daniel Akpeyi – who was injured for the clash – and playing his part in a famous victory.
The Ifeanyi Ubah shot stopper’s abilities were initially questioned as he plays in the Nigeria Professional Football League and lacked international exposure, however, he seized the spotlight and put in a good show.
Ezenwa duly kept his spot between the sticks against Zambia and recently Algeria, despite the emergence of wonderkid Francis Uzoho.
With number one Carl Ikeme not certain of coming back to action before the 2018 World Cup in Russia, is Ezenwa good enough to be the Nigerian stopper at the global showpiece?
He did well in the double header against the Indomitable Lions, making some good saves, and also made a few key contributions against Chipolopolo, even though it wasn’t a totally smooth performance.
He needlessly conceded a penalty in Yaounde after misjudging the flight of the ball, fouling Arnaud Djoum in the process, and against the Fennecs in Constantine on Friday it was another nervous showing.
Ezenwa lacked composure and was poor with his handling. Similarly, he also failed to deal with crosses that came his way, prompting more concern for the Super Eagles’ coaching crew.
His nervy performances came in contrast to one of the Eagles’ greatest stoppers, Vincent Enyeama.
The Cat was solid between the posts during his peak, demonstrating a high level of concentration and good command of area. He rarely switched off when he was supposed to be alert, and covered the blushes of the back four when they weren’t at their best.
His outstanding performance against England at the 2002 World Cup – where he kept a clean sheet in the goalless draw – won plaudits and set the tone in becoming the country’s undisputed number one for the next 15 years.
However, with the veteran keeper still to rescind his decision to retire from international duty, don’t expect to see him make an appearance for the Eagles any time soon.
Nigeria face old foes Argentina in a friendly on Tuesday, and Rohr might want to use that as an opportunity to test the young Uzoho. He has made two appearances for Deportivo La Coruna this season and, at 18 years of age, he looks a decent bet to represent Nigeria’s future.
But does he represent the present as well, or will Ezenwa be trusted to continue manning the post?
The 28-year-old is the current favourite for the role, and while he has done a decent job so far, he will need to improve on his weaknesses before the World Cup.
Would he, for instance, be able to deal with Lionel Messi’s trickery inside the box where any slight mistake could be unforgiving? Could he be able to handle the deadly crosses from Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne or Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov if Nigeria were to be paired with either of those countries?
Enyeama will be remembered for putting in a masterclass against Argentina at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Although Nigeria lost the match 1-0, the former Enyimba keeper made six crucial saves to deny goals that could have seen La Albiceleste extend their lead.
The 35-year old won the Man of the Match award, with then-coach Diego Maradona hailing him as the reason Messi – who was particularly frustrated by Enyeama – couldn’t find the back of the net.