• Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

AFCON: Stanley Nwabali, Super Eagles’ new goalkeeper bride

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Nigerian seems to have seen a newborn Super Eagles side at the ongoing 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast following a brilliant performance especially the defensive strength of the team.

No guessing in saying the Super Eagles seem to have solved a major challenge of the team, poor goalkeeping which had dealt a major blow to Nigeria and denied the nation in major competitions.

Now the narrative has changed with the discovery of Stanley Nwabali, taking over as Super Eagles first-choice goalkeeper from Francis Uzoho whom many Nigerian fans have criticised for goal-keeping errors and lack of confidence on the goalpost.

After several tries with Maduka Okoye and Uzoho, Nwabali‘s masterclass performance at the 2023 AFCON, kept four clean sheets in five matches and conceded just one goal the most in the tournament and equal a long-standing record for most clean sheets by a Nigerian goalkeeper in a major tournament.

Before the kickoff of the 2023 AFCON, Nigerian fans had expressed fear and anxiety at the goalkeeping department of the Super Eagles but Nwabali has now changed the mindsets of the fans after helping the Super Eagles book a semi-final spot at the 2023 AFCON.

Nigeria qualified for the semi-finals of the AFCON after beating Angola 1-0 almost the same team that played a 1-1 draw with Lesotho, and Zimbabwe in the 2026 qualifier with Uzoho in the post for Nigeria, Also, poor goalkeeping cost Nigeria’s Super Eagles Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup ticket.

The Super Eagles were held to a 1-1 home draw by Lesotho in a 2026 World Cup qualifier, Nigeria had to come from behind against Lesotho, ranked 153rd by FIFA.

The Black Stars of Ghana edged Nigeria on away goals to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and were knocked out of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations at the Round-16 stage by Tunisia.

But just one man changes everything now, Nwabali, the 27-year-old goalie who plays in the South African league with Chippa United has made the difference in the Super Eagles team.

The Super Eagles in the past have conceded silly goals, especially at crucial moments in a game, a typical example is the goal they conceded against Ghana that denied them qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

Nigeria also conceded a silly goal against Tunisia that led to the team’s elimination from the last AFCON edition and several goalkeeping errors that have cost the team severely.

But the narrative has changed with the discovery of Nwabali, a tall, composed, calm and intelligent goalkeeper with sharp reflexes. He has made crucial saves for Nigeria at the 2023 AFCON and his effort has helped power the Super Eagles to the last four of the tournament.

Against Angola, Nwabali, a former Enyimba star made a critical and goal-bound save to keep Nigeria in the game and millions of Nigerian fans have reignited their support for the team.

Nwabali’s incredible save in the 89th minute of the Super Eagles’ win over Angola in the quarter-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been named the CAF Save of the Day.

With one minute left on the clock, Zito Luvumbo found himself facing the Nigerian back line after receiving a pass from Mabululu, drifted the ball to his left foot, and aimed to curl the ball into the top corner but Nwabali parried the ball away.

The Chippa United safe hand also made a fantastic save in the 4th minute to deny Mabululu from putting Angola ahead in the encounter.

Although the Super Eagles have not scored many goals at the 2023 AFCON, Nwabali at the goalpost for the Super Eagles will most definitely guarantee a clean sheet.

Nwabali has shown the Super Eagles technical team and also convinced millions of Nigerian football fans that he is better than Uzoho and Maduka Okoye.

Nwabali also broke a 44-year record for Super Eagles goalkeepers set by Best Ogedegbe’s 1980 record and Alloy Agu’s 1990 3-game streak for Super Eagles after keeping a clean sheet against Angola at the 2023 AFCON.

Since making his competitive debut against Equatorial Guinea, Nwabali is now rated Nigeria’s favourite choice goalkeeper and the future of the Super Eagles’ goalkeeping department.

Nwabali will hope to continue his impressive record when Nigeria face South Africa in the semi-final on Wednesday.