Uzoho: Should Peseiro keep faith in the struggling Super Eagles goalkeeper?

Despite the continued criticism, Francis Uzoho has retained his spot as the Super Eagles' leading goalkeeper (Credit: IMAGO/Shengolpixs)

Uzoho: Should Peseiro keep faith in the struggling Super Eagles goalkeeper?

Seye Omidiora 19:24 - 15.11.2023

Jose Peseiro was not wrong to make Francis Uzoho his first-choice goalkeeper. However, persisting with the error-prone shot-stopper is bordering on blind faith.

It is not entirely controversial to slate Jose Peseiro’s continued selection of Francis Uzoho at this point, as almost every supporter of the Super Eagles has earmarked the goalkeeping situation as an undoubted weakness of the team.

The dip in quality since Vincent Enyeama’s retirement and Carl Ikeme’s short-lived Nigeria career have left the three-time African champions burning through several shot-stoppers, keen to find one reliable enough in his prevention of goals and one not prone to asinine misjudgements. 

Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Uzoho and Maduka Okoye have all tried but ultimately flattered to deceive for different reasons. Uzoho is Peseiro’s present first choice despite reservations about the 25-year-old’s inconsistent performances. 

Those fluctuating displays between the sticks mean the Omonia Nicosia man has never earned supporters’ trust since his November 2017 debut against Argentina. Despite Uzoho’s flaws, there is a capable goalkeeper in there capable of producing commendable showings intermittently, explaining Peseiro’s preference for the shot-stopper.

Francis Uzoho
Peseiro has stuck with Uzoho despite his lack of game time at his club (Credit: Imago)

How Uzoho won Peseiro over

Despite the question marks surrounding Uzoho and Okoye after Peseiro’s appointment, the Portuguese manager’s arrival signalled a fresh start for both. 

Uzoho was almost persona non grata for the part he played in Nigeria’s World Cup playoff defeat by regional rivals Ghana in March 2022, while Okoye could not cement his spot at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon at the start of last year.

Francis Uzoho
Neither Maduka Okoye nor Francis Uzoho has convinced Super Eagles supporters (Credit: IMAGO/Shengolpixs)

Both had a clean slate under Peseiro, and Uzoho capitalised on that by giving himself a head start over the Udinese shot-stopper in the Super Eagles friendly defeats at the hands of Mexico (2-1) and Ecuador (1-0).

The maligned goalie made a series of stops in both losses, preventing the Super Eagles from suffering heavier defeats. 

He could do little about both goals against El Tri, with Santiago Gimenez’s fortuitous strike coming after Uzoho had thrown himself in the path of Gimenez’s initial effort before the ball went in off the striker. The North American side’s second came from William Troost-Ekong astonishingly smashing the ball into the wrong end.

While Peseiro’s team were improved in the 1-0 loss against the South American side, Uzoho made several saves to keep the Super Eagles in the game, and his showing may have been extolled had the West African giants found a response to Pervis Estupinan’s third-minute goal.

The standout moment came with five minutes to play. Under pressure from Gonzalo Plata, the goalkeeper took control of the situation by waving Semi Ajayi away, deceiving the forward with a feint and playing out of danger. 

That was a departure from the previously panicky goalkeeper, and he carried that momentum into the team’s first competitive fixture under their new boss.

Even if one moment when Uzoho and Ajayi had their wires crossed against Sierra Leone almost saw the Leone Stars level, it was the goalkeeper’s fingertip save that prevented the away side from extending their lead to 2-0. That stop was pivotal because Alex Iwobi levelled less than two minutes later, and the Super Eagles completed the turnaround through Victor Osimhen before the interlude.

Uzoho, Iwobi and Calvin Bassey were the standout performers under Peseiro, but only the former Arsenal and Everton man has successfully sustained a high level in the following 12 months.

Is Peseiro’s continued faith in Uzoho misguided?

Despite the mistakes creeping into Uzoho’s game since a strong start under Peseiro, the Omonia FC goalie has started and completed all but one competitive fixture — the 3-2 win over Sierra Leone in June — with Adebayo Adeleye filling in between the sticks.

The fact this has extended to friendly games underscores Uzoho’s standing as the Portuguese coach’s leading goalkeeper and a belief in the 25-year-old recapturing the form from those early games against Mexico, Ecuador and Sierra Leone.

However, supporters’ belief in Uzoho losing credibility has been strengthened in the last year and reached a head in October’s international fixtures against Saudi Arabia and Mozambique

There was frustration with the shot-stopper for the concession of both goals against Roberto Mancini’s men, even if he could be excused for the second in the 2-2 draw, while ire was directed at Peseiro for his seeming aversion to new options in non-competitive games.

Francis Uzoho
Jose Peseiro was criticised for sticking with Uzoho in October's friendly games against Saudi Arabia and Mozambique. (Photo Credit: Imago)

Nothing new was learned in both fixtures for the goalkeeping position, and it felt like an opportunity was missed to utilise a different approach between the sticks.

It remains to be seen where Peseiro’s faith in Uzoho leads, but the much-maligned goalkeeper is anticipated to be number one at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations unless the Nigeria boss changes tack. 

And the Super Eagles could pay the price for their trainer’s intransigence if the shot-stopper does not emulate the form at the start of the Portuguese’s Nigeria spell.