Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Inside Keshi's crystal ball


Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi, will have his hands full in the coming months as he tries to tinker with a pool of players that he hopes will hoist his country's flag successfully at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

After a decent show at the Chan 2014 hosted by South Africa where Nigeria picked up the bronze medal by edging out Zimbabwe in the classification match, the former Strasbourg defender will take a deserved rest before he begins the long and tedious journey of picking a provisional team prior to the final selection that will board the plane for Brazil.

Suffice to say, after a long and challenging qualifying round, the core of the squad has already emerged, but there are a few players who are on the fringes of the full squad or just might be quality squad members to decide upon.

In a four part series, Supersport.com takes a lot some of this players who might be in with a shot to make Keshi's provisional squad, when the dirty work begins in preparation for the football fiesta in Brazil.

The goalkeeping department will be the first part of these series, where we will run the rule on potential candidates who might be in contention for a slot in the team.


Goalkeepers

Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide are shoe-in for the two of the three slots available for goalkeepers and it will take something of a monumental proportion or injuries for these two to be omitted from the squad.

Enyeama has been colossal for Nigeria and his Ligue 1 team, Lille and has had a fantastic season so far in France. His saves and clean sheets has been instrumental to Lille's upward charge in the league.
Austin Ejide has for over a decade been a loyal and capable understudy to Enyeama, the Hapoel Be'er Sheva shot-stopper has been up for it anytime he gets his chance and hasn't been found wanting.
The battle for the third and final slot will be fierce and interesting, and supersport.com runs the rule on some of the possibles.

Chigozie Agbim:




Club: Enugu Rangers

Age: 29

Caps:16

Keshi is a firm believer in the Enugu Rangers goalkeeper and this was evident as he kept faith with the man, who was also between the sticks for the Golden Eaglets in 2001, despite some well documented howlers at the just concluded Chan tourney.

Agbim's lack of competitive club football surely came through in the early stages of the tournament, but he rose to the occasion as the tournament progressed with top draw saves against Morocco and Zimbabwe.

He needs to sort out his club future as Keshi has already sounded that out to him, as this will be paramount for the final run in prior to the World Cup.

The 29-year-old is good on one-on-one situations, but needs to work on his distribution and ability to deal with crosses into his box.

Verdict: He looks the most likely bet among the lot we will look out if he can get regular playing time.

Greg Etafia

pic courtesy kickoff.com

Club: Moroka Swallows (South Africa)

Age:31

Caps:4

The Moroka Swallows goalkeeper has fallen off the radar after his Sydney 2001 Olympics run-out where, he was touted as a replacement for Ike Shorunmu back then, but has been a consistent performer in the PSL for about a decade now.

He has been quietly going about his business in the South African Premier Soccer League where he has been in impressive form for the 'Dube Birds' this season and should be a strong competition for the third goalkeeper slot.

Etafia, who also featured for the Golden Eaglets, and is close to making about 300 starts for Swallows, is a good shot-stopper and reads the game well and is also good at stopping penalties.
It's left to see if Keshi thinks he can bring more competition to the other goalkeepers with his performance this season, to warrant a place in his provisional squad.

Verdict: His chance looks dim in this regard. Keshi will presumably go with a home-based keeper so it looks highly improbable for the him.

Theophilus Afelokhai

pic courtesy supersport.com


Club: Kano Pillars

Age: 25

Caps 1

Afelokhai has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the Glo Premier League over the past three seasons and has been between the sticks as Pillars won the league back to back.

The former under-23 goalkeeper, who commands his area very well, is a seasoned campaigner on the domestic scene and has been in the fore front of Pillars recent renaissance in the local league.
He is very good with crosses and a good shot-stopper in his own right coupled with an intimidating presence, he has been a nightmare for attackers on the local scene.

Afelokhai, who captains the reigning Nigerian champions has all the attributes to be a top class goalkeeper and an invitation to the national team is not totally out of place.

Verdict: Afelokhai has done enough in the local league to warrant a call up, but has he done enough to convince Keshi? Looks highly unlikely at this point.

Femi Thomas


pic courtesy mtnfootball.com

Club: Enyimba

Age: 24

Caps: Nil

Femi Thomas is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Glo Premier League as occasioned by his heroics between the posts as Enyimba set an unprecedented record of not conceding a goal last season at the Enyimba International Stadium - their home ground.

Thomas has been a journey man of sorts in the local league, as he has featured for Zamfara United, Akwa United, Nasarawa United, Ocean Boys and now Enyimba.

He has been consistent for his club and was also in goal as Nigeria picked up silver at the 2005 Africa Youth Championship in Congo, in a team that had Super Eagles left-back, Elderson Echiejile and 
Dynamo Kiev attacker, Brown Ideye.

A very confident shot-stopper, he has also added to his arsenal the ability to stop penalty kicks and has really come up in leaps and bound in recent years.

Verdict: Looks the likely to be Agbim's main challenge for the third slot based on our permutations. If the unusual happens, then Thomas might just sneak in.

June is a long way to come, but the real work starts now. The more they say, the merrier. Keshi surely has his hands full as he looks to groom a squad that will confront the World when the Fifa World Cup kicks off this June in Brazil.

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