Golden Eaglets: Nigeria’s 20 goalkeepers in 20 years — where they are now

Francis Uzoho
Francis Uzoho

Like wine, goalkeepers are said to get better as they grow older so it is a common phenomenon to see shot-stoppers even in their late 30s very much on top on their game.

From Manuel Neuer to Giggi Buffon, the list is endless even for the likes of Oliver Khan, Ike Casillas and Petr Cech who have all retired, they were all big hits in their 30s.

Unfortunately, when one goes down memory lane, checking out the goalkeepers Nigeria has registered in the FIFA U17-World Cup in the last 20 years, they have all but fizzled away safe for a sprinkle.

PREMIUM TIMES beams the searchlight on what has become of the goalkeepers that have represented Nigeria in the last two decades at FIFA U17 World Cup.

2001:

Osaze Uweluyi

With Lemmy Isa setting the tone for other upcoming Golden Eaglet’s goalkeepers, Osaze nursed the dream of becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

As one the three goalkeepers for 2001 World Cup, he was selected at the eleventh hour by coach Festus Onigbinde to help steady the ship should Akpan fail to live up to expectations. But he was on the bench throughout the competition as Akpan steered Nigeria’s ship through the storm.

He has since retired from active football.

Bassey Abobo Akpan (Akwa United FC)

Talent and will are not always enough to make the grades in football, sometimes a young player needs a coach with insight to put him on the right path. And that was very much the case with Bassey Akpan who was treading water until coach Lars Lagerback took over as Super Eagles gaffer months before 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It was said Akpan would have realised his dream of joining the long lists of legends had the Swede arrived earlier.

With 17 caps each for U-17 and U-23 national teams, Bassey was tipped to become one of Nigeria’s top-notch goalkeepers. He had his only Super Eagles cap under Lagerback in an international friendly match against Congo DR in March 2010. He came in to replace Segun Oluwaniyi with 10 minutes left to play.

The former Heartland, Sunshine and Bayelsa FC had a short stint with Vietnamese side H.A Giant Lai FC in 2010 and returned home to revamp his career in the Nigerian league.

He currently plays for Akwa United.

2003

Ambrose Vanzekin (Retired)

A product of Gray International, a Kaduna- based academy known for discovering top talents like Bala Ezekiel and Emmanuel Sarki, Vanzekin was known for his composure in goal. He was in goal at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup as Nigeria drew 1-1 with Costa Rica, beat Australia 2-1 and lost 1-0 to Argentina.

Vanzekin’s moment, however, came at the Beijing 2000 Olympic where Nigeria’s Dream Team narrowly lost 1-0 to Argentina in the finals courtesy of a loop from Angel Di Maria.

He played for Plateau United, Bendel Insurance, Akwa United and Warri Wolves before he retired from active football in 2015.

Mustapha Salihu (Unattached)

His talent was spotted by coach Austin Eguavoen’s scouts while playing for Sunshine Stars of Akure youth side. He was an unused substitute at the 2015 World Cup. Mustapha returned to Sunshine after the World Cup and later joined Tornadoes FC of Minna in 2016.

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Not much was heard of Mustapha afterwards and he is currently unattached.

Tope Okeowo

Tope Okeowo showed a lot of promise when he was invited to Eaglet’s camp by coach Austin Eguavoen but he could only settle for a place on the bench. Completely forgotten after 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Tope came into the news in 2017 when he was surprisingly invited by Gernot Rohr ahead of international friendly games against Senegal and Burkina Faso. South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi’s arrival at the camp was being delayed while Ikechukwu Ezenwa was still expected in camp from.

Determined to prosecute the friendly with a goalkeeper, Rohr had to invite Tosin who was playing for a non-league side Peckham United FC.

He is currently based in the UK.

2005: Did not qualify

2007

Laide Okalanwon (Retired)

He was picked ahead of Dele Ajiboye by late coach Yemi Tela but Okanlawon never got enough opportunity to showcase his talent at the big stage. His only appearance was a group opening match against France, which Nigeria won 2-1. He battled series of injuries after 2007 World Cup triumph and retired from active football.

Dele Ajiboye (Plateau United)

Remembered for his brilliant saves in the finals against Spain, even Manchester United no.1 David de Gea nodded with envy as Ajiboye put up a superlative performance to stop Spain from converting any of its spot-kicks.

Ajiboye was signed on briefly by Spanish second-tier side Pontevedra in July 2009 on a free transfer. He was unattached in 2011 and went on to play for Shooting stars, Nasarawa United, Warri Wolves and his present club Plateau United.

He had three caps with U-23 national team under coach Austin Eguavoen but luck eventually smiled at him when he was listed in Super Eagles’ 18-man team that faced Cameroon in 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Ajiboye has not given up on his dream of playing abroad after all, they say the older the wine, the better it becomes.

Uche Okafor (Abia Warriors)

Little was known of Uche at 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup because the duo of Dele Ajiboye and Laide Okanlawon were not willing to let down their guards.

It was at 2009 FIFA World Cup that the youngster proved his mettle. With Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo as skipper, Uche Okafor did a yeoman’s job between the stick despite Flying Eagles losing to Spain, Venezuela and Germany.

He currently plays for Nigeria Premier League side Abia Warriors FC.

2009

Dami Paul (Jigawa Golden Stars)

Dami proved heights may not really matter when it comes to goalkeeping. This 1.73m tall and soft-spoken keeper is extraordinary in his reflexes handling off crosses and speed off his line. Dami Paul looked a natural goalkeeper from the word go.

For what he lacks in height, he made up for it with his ability to foresee oncoming danger and call his rearguards to avert it.

Dami was in goal for Nigeria throughout the 2009 cadet world cup which Nigeria hosted. He wept like a toddler as his lack of height failed him in the finals against Switzerland.

Pundits believe he doesn’t stand a chance to go all the way in the national team due to his height. But today, Dami is not relenting in his desire to prove his critics wrong. For now, he is proud to be with Nigeria Professional Football League side Jigawa Stars FC as their no.1 goalkeeper.

Amos Izuchukwu (Nitel FC)

He stretched himself beyond the limit and waded off competition from other keepers in camp to pick one of three goalkeeper slots as Nigeria hosted the cadet World Cup in 2009. His rise was indeed meteoric.

For most of the world cup campaign, he was content to understudy first choice Dami Paul who was exceptional throughout the tournament.

He is listed as currently playing for Nitel FC of Lagos.

John Felagha (Unattached)

Having proved his worth at Qatar’s Aspire Academy, he was expected to pick a starting shirt in coach John Obuh side, but he fell into third in the pecking order of goalkeeper when Nigeria hosted the tournament in 2009.

He was on the bench throughout the tournament as Nigeria won silver behind Switzerland. Felagha was part of 2013 FIFA U-20 World cup but failed to play a single match in the tournament also.

He later joined Belgian side KAC Eupen in 2013. Felagha has since kept a low profile after a short stint in Belgium and he is currently unattached.

2011: Did not qualify

2013

Dele Alampasu ( Ventspils, Latvia )

Alampasu was tipped to be the next big thing of Nigerian football after his superb saves between the sticks in seven games ensured Nigeria emerged the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. He conceded five goals in seven matches; a performance which earned him the golden gloves award.

His reflexes attracted European suitors, but he penned a deal with Portuguese side FC Feirense where he failed to tie down regular shirt.

Alampasu joined Latvian topflight division club, Ventspils on a three-year deal with the club after he was released by Portuguese club, Feirense.

With just a cap under Gernot Rohr, Alampasu’s recent move to Latvia may have ended his chances of staging a dramatic comeback to Super Eagles with German-born gaffer bent on giving attention to only players who ply their trades in top European leagues.

Abdulazeez Abubakar

Like legendary Peter Rufai, the youngster likes to celebrate a vital save with a clinched-fist to pose of delight. He is a product of one of Lagos best football academy, Nath Boys FC.

He was confined to bench in UAE as Nigeria won her fourth U-17 World Cup. He is currently unattached.

Francis Uzoho (Omonia Nikosia)

Arguably the biggest success story from the U-17 ranks, Uzoho is already considered as Super Eagles no.1.

He made it to the top chiefly because he is not a showman. Instead, he prioritises solidity, application and effectiveness.

Overlooked by coach Manu Garba at FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE, he was third behind Abdulazeez Abubakar and Dele Alampasu. But it is no small achievement that he has worked his way to becoming Gernot Rohr’s favourite as the man to bark our orders between the sticks.

Uzoho grabbed his chance in Nigeria 3-2 win over Argentina in a friendly. He never kept a match in UAE but he is today a proud owner of 16 caps under coach Gernot Rohr.

He was okay watching from the sideline as things unfold in Super Eagles goalkeeping department, but with the national team sinking fast into massive goalkeeping morass, Rohr made a crucial decision during a friendly tie with Argentina to avert the pecking order and gave Uzoho his chance.

He was in goal in Nigeria’s three matches and let in five goals in Russia 2918 World Cup as Nigeria failed to advance to the knockout stage.

He currently plies his trade in Cyprus with Omonia Nicosia on loan after a long stint with Deportivo La Coruna. He is currently nursing a niggling one injury.

2015

Akpan David Udoh

Of all three goalkeepers coach Emmanuel Amuneke ushered into the Golden Eaglets that conquered the world in 2015, Udoh proved by far the most worthy, virtually error-free in the tournament and frequently saving a rearguard with more than one fault line.

Udoh let in five goals in seven games and made crucial saves in Golden Eaglets’ 3-0 win over Brazil in the quarter-final at the Estadio Sausalito, Viña del Mar as Nigeria went on to retain her place as the most successful nation in the tournament history, with five titles and three runners-up.

His near-perfect saves and reflexes drew foreign scouts but he eventually ended up with Israeli top side, Bnei Sackhnin FC. It was a different story at 2019 Africa U-20 Championship as Udoh failed to taste throughout the tournament. He was eventually dropped by coach Paul Aibogun en-route FIFA U-20 World Cup. Udoh is currently without a club in his battle to revamp his dwindling career.

Amos Innocent Benjamin

He never stood a chance against no.1 choice Akpan and he quickly adjusted to a long tenure as Eaglets second choice goalkeeper despite being adjudged as the best goalkeeper at 2014 WAFU Cup held in Togo.

His chance eventually came when Flying Eagles manager Emmanuel Amuneke recalled the teenager to the squad on the back of his imperious display against Real Madrid in the final of the Ramljak Tournament in Zagreb, Croatia.

He went on to feature in Verregio Cup for Spezia. He currently lives in Italy unattached.

Chisom Chiaha (Enugu Rangers)

Scouted from Apapa Golden Stars FC, Chisom is naturally authoritative between the sticks and never flustered. He is excellent when facing down opponents at close quarters. He deserves praise for being part of the victorious 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup squad even though he never had the opportunity to showcase his skill at the big stage. He currently plays for Enugu Rangers in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

2017: Did Not Qualify

2019:

Sunday Stephen

A product of Abuja Football College, Sunday failed to taste any action at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. He was third on the lists of goalkeeper behind Joseph Oluwabusolaa and Daniel Jinadu. He came into limelight after first-choice goalkeeper Ibrahim Shaibu let in four goals against host Tanzania at the African U-17 Championship. He went on to earn three more caps against Angola, Uganda and Guinea as Nigeria emerged fourth. He did survive the shake-up that followed but eventually lost his place to Daniel Jinadu at the World Cup.

Daniel Jinadu (West Ham United)

This former England U16 goalkeeper made his competitive debut for the Golden Eaglets as Nigeria beat Hungary 4-2 win in group B opener at 219 FIFA U17 World Cup. He was also in goal as Nigeria overpowered stubborn Ecuador 3-2 to book a place in the knockout stage. Jinadu’s reign at the World Cup ended as Nigeria lost 3-1 to tournament runners-up Netherland. He is back in England where he combines football with education. He currently plays for West Ham United youth side.

Joseph Oluwabusola (AFC Bournemouth)

With little or no experience of Nigerian grassroot football, this lad did so well to muscle his way into the Nigeria U-17 national team.

The 16-year-old was born in Essex, England, and, determined to know his roots and the cultural diversity of Nigeria, turned down an earlier request from England to represent Nigeria. Despite playing second fiddle behind Daniel Jinadu at the African Championship in Tanzania, Joseph waited for his chances at the global stage. That opportunity finally came in Nigeria’s final group tie against Australia. Although Nigeria lost 2-1 to the Aussies, Joseph gave a good account of himself despite letting in two goals. He is still with Bournemouth despite an offer from West Ham.



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