Goalkeeper Maduka Okoye faces a fight to reclaim his No.1 shirt in the Super Eagles despite his recall to the team for next week’s international friendly against Algeria in Oran, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
Okoye last played for the Eagles seven months ago, in the 1-0 defeat to Tunisia at the delayed 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon and was blamed by home fans for the team’s exit from the tournament, after the 22-year-old failed to keep out Youssef Mskani’s long-range shot, which ended the Eagles’ hopes of winning a fourth AFCON title.
The keeper was subjected to cyber bullying, including death threats by fans on social media. Following the backlash from fans, the Watford goalie allegedly pulled out of the Eagles Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Ghana on account of illness, last March.
He also asked to be left out of the team to focus on settling in at his new club after being invited for the international friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador, as well as the 2023 AFCON qualifiers against Sao Tome and Principe, according to Eagles goalkeeper trainer Ike Shorunmu.
Despite his absence from the team, Shorunmu still believes Okoye stands a chance of reclaiming his place in the team, but admits he would face stiff competition from duo Francis Uzoho and Adebayo Adeleye, who have been more active for their respective teams so far this season.
Adeleye has kept three clean sheets in four league games, conceding just once in between the sticks for Israeli side Hapoel Jerusalem, while Uzoho, who has been in goal in Okoye’s absence, has made two appearances and let in three goals for Cypriots Omonia Nicosia.
Okoye on his part has made one appearance, conceding twice, since joining the Hornets.
“He (Okoye) is a good goalkeeper and I believe he has the qualities to be No.1, just like the others,” Shorunmu told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“The head coach asked me he wanted to recall him back to the team to see him closely and of course, it came with my support too because I wanted him back in the team when we came on board. But he informed us that he wanted to settle in at his new club. I guess he is settled now ands ready to challenge for his place back in the national team.”
Olympic gold medallist, Dosu Joseph, in an interview with PUNCH Sports Extra, expressed confidence in Okoye to fight for his place.
“I don’t think there is any need to fear as regards the Eagles goalkeeping department, it’s just a friendly,” Dosu told our correspondent.
“I won’t say because Okoye didn’t do well at the last Africa Cup of Nations we should crucify him. I believe in him and the others as well.
“As I have always said, we have very good goalkeepers in the country and in Europe, but anytime any of them makes a mistake, we are very quick to judge them and ask that they should be replaced.
“Goalkeepers make mistakes, players make mistakes too. All we need to do is believe in the current goalkeepers.
“We’ve not seen much of him with Watford but that does not make him a bad choice. It will be interesting to see who is picked to be in goal for the game.”