Manchester United fan Francis Uzoho was just moments away from finishing one of the greatest goalkeeping displays ever seen on an apprehensive Thursday night at Old Trafford.
Uzoho, in goal for Omonia Nicosia, made 12 eye-popping saves against his boyhood club, before being beaten in stoppage time by substitute Scott McTominay’s winner to send Old Trafford into rapturous celebrations.
It was the reverse fixture of the group stage clash between the struggling English giants and the minnows from Cyprus in the Europa League.
United had managed a 3-2 win in the first fixture, after falling behind, with Uzoho on the bench.
The Englishmen were playing hosts now, with Erik ten Hag picking a largely full strength team against opposition they were expected to beat easily.
But if they thought they were out to annihilate the Cypriots on Thursday, Super Eagles keeper Uzoho had other ideas.
The hosts were dominant for most of the half but failed to find a way past Uzoho, who was playing in just his third club game of the season.
The Nigerian goalkeeper was in imperious form, and his save to keep out a long range effort from Casemiro, which would have been the midfielder’s first for the club, was the highlight of the first half performance.
Aside from the save from Casemiro, it was mainly Marcus Rashford who was on the wrong end of Uzoho’s incredible performance, which kept things goalless at half time.
United had absolutely dominated the first half, with 15 shots at goal, keeping the ball for 79 per cent of the game and stringing a mammoth 381 passes together.
It was same story after the break.
Uzoho also denied Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring – in the process accruing an impressive 12 saves – with nine of them coming from inside the box.
“Prime Buffon, Schmeichel, etc rolled into one tonight,” one fan exclaimed, comparing the 23-year-old to some of the best keepers in football history.
“Audition for De Gea job,” another fan said, with the Spanish goalkeeper’s potential replacement having been recently pointed out by United fans.
Another added, “Uzoho turns prime Manuel Neuer playing against his boyhood club at Old Trafford. Rashford has tried everything against him — good saves every time from the Nigerian goalkeeper.”
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea also praised his opposite number for his spectacular display.
“Of course. I think Uzoho had an amazing game,” said De Gea in his post-match interview with MUTV.
“I think he made eight or 10 great saves for his team in the game but in the end, we scored a goal and for sure he made a great game. I know he played in La Liga in Spain. He had an amazing game and congratulations to him.”
United boss Ten Hag added, “I congratulated him. He made a lot of saves. He kept them in the game.”
Former United and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves believes the 23-year-old Nigerian’s outing will turn his career around.
“He had the game of his life, he was amazing,” Hargreaves told BBC.
“He will nick a move off that. To think he was their backup goalkeeper.
“This game will change his career, arguably change his life. It is spectacular, that is what sports is all about.
“He was a wall. His agent will be on the phone and he will be having a Jerry Maguire phone call.
“We all have moments, games that change your career – everyone will know his name.”
Omonia manager Neil Lennon added, “He was inspiring. I’m very proud of him.
“When you play a team of this calibre you need your goalkeeper to play well and he was world-class. I was so happy for him.”
Uzoho’s performance also got several of his countrymen wondering, after his recent performances for the national team, one of which was a howler against Ghana, which gifted the Black Stars the 2022 World Cup ticket in Abuja last March.
@iambolar wrote on Twitter, “Na the same Uzoho I dey watch abi my eyes dey deceive me? Wow!!”
@90sSophie added, “The way Uzoho turn up against Manchester united, if nah so him do for Nigeria, Partey for no score that goal wey no allow us quality for World Cup.”
Another fan @J_agozie stated, “This same Uzoho wey Thomas Partey score from 23 yards, just turn Prime Oliver Khan against Ronaldo and Rashford.”
Unknown to many, this was a game Uzoho had looked forward to.
Back in August, the backup goalie to Brazilian first choice Fabiano, was ecstatic after the Europa draw pitted Omonia against United.
But he wasn’t even sure if he would get to play against his boyhood club.
In a Twitter post August 26, he wrote,
“Finally Theatre of Dreams here I come. GGMU no dey this one for now (GGMU not in this one).”
However, while replying to a respondent Osondu Esonwune, who jokingly pleaded with him to allow United score against the Cypriots, Uzoho stated in pidgin English, “Baba e no even sure say na me go keep but if I sha keep I go for sure die for that post o (Baba, it’s not even sure I’ll be the one to keep but if I get to keep, I will for sure die in between the posts).
In the first fixture, Lennon, as usual, opted for Fabiano in the 3-2 defeat.
But Uzoho got his big chance on Thursday and grabbed it with both hands.
“He has had to be patient. The opportunity came along and I had a chat with him about what I wanted,” Lennon stated.
“I thought he was magnificent. He excelled under the spotlight. I’m so happy for him because all of his hard work has come to fruition.”
In his post-match conference, the Nigeria international, beaming with smiles, told BT Sport, “I am not disappointed because we had a great game, but I would have preferred to get at least a point, but I’m happy.
“It’s not an easy stadium to play in with these big players, so, I’m happy in general.”
On his support for the record Premier League champions, Uzoho added, “Yes, I’m a big United fan. It’s a dream come true for me. I have dreamed to play here for a long, long time so, when I saw the draw and I figured I would be playing at Old Trafford, I wanted to play.
“I prayed to God to get an opportunity to play, and I got it, so I am happy to play here.”
Uzoho added, “Arguably, this is the best game I have played. I am proud of my teammates though, because it is not a one-man job.
“It’s a dream come true for me, I have dreamed to play at Old Trafford for a long time so when I saw the draw and I figured that I would be playing at Old Trafford, I prayed to God to get an opportunity to play, so I got it and am happy I played here.”
With his mouthwatering performance, he was nominated for the UEFA Europa League Player of The Week and Save of The Day awards, and will battle Vitor Oliveira, Joey Veerman and William Boving for the former, while he runs for the Save of The Day award alongside Ugurcan Cakir, Kenan Piric, and Jorg Siebenhadhl.
It was indeed a night to behold for the Nigerian at the Theatre of Dreams, one he would savour for a long time, and according to Hargreaves, one that could eventually change his career and life.