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Why Nigeria Fans Should Back Off Uzoho and Okoye

Coach Peseiro has come out to throw his weight of support behind goalkeeper Francis Uzoho after allowing a saveable shot creep into the net in this weekend's 2:2 friendly draw against Saudi Arabia.

For once, I will break from convention by refusing to slam goalkeeper Uzoho on this occasion. If what I read on is anything to go by, then this is the time to wrap my hands around all our goalkeepers - Uzoho, Okoye and Adeleye.

The pain of crashing out of the Afcon and failing to qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup largely due to goalkeeping shortcomings is still fresh in my mind. The fact that those lapses continue to manifest themselves from both goalkeepers 20 months later is undeniably worrying.

But I think this has the tendency to blind ones eyes to the progress these goalkeepers are trying to make in the intervening months. I have to say it as I see it: Uzoho should have done better with the first goal Nigeria conceded yesterday. But that is just a blind spot of game that has sadly shown up time and again as needing improvement.

What are the goalkeeper trainers doing to help him plug this gap?

Anticipation, timing, positioning, movement and inadequate technique in dealing with tricky long balls is the single most damaging shortcoming plaguing Uzoho and Okoye. They are pretty decent in other aspects of goalkeeping.

It's very possible to find a goalkeeper better able to repel long range strikes but lacking in other areas where Uzoho and Okoye are known to shine.

Peseiro is right to deflect blame from Uzoho and heap it on himself and his management team. Looking at it holistically, perhaps the controversial 4-4-2 formation that he and his shadow Eguavoen practice leave the team susceptible to such tricky long range shots liable to cause goalkeeper problems - who knows?

If not, how do you explain Okoye and Uzoho falling to the same long range sword against Tunisia and Ghana respectively last year? Which was why, I suspect, Okoye stylishly excused himself from the games against Ghana to see whether another Nigerian goalkeeper can deal with such long range strikes under this opaque 4-4-2 system that is fast becoming a liability.

The only time the formation really shines is against São Tomé and Príncipe. Other times it has been hit-or-miss.

Uzoho was visibly upset and disappointed when the ball went in yesterday and I felt bad for him, perhaps it's time for fans to give him a break.

We have goalkeeping problems and I have never really being a huge fan of either Okoye and Uzoho. But Uzoho tried yesterday. He played like a modern day goalkeeper with ball to feet. He was the quintessential keeper-sweeper. He made some fine short range saves and looked the part with his demeanour and command of his area.

That one goal from the free kick was truly unfortunate but, for me, very symptomatic of a wider problem in the team's tactical structure and overral (lack) of discipline in defending set pieces rather than just the parochial view of goalkeeper shortcomings.

If Peseiro has to scout for another goalkeeper, so be it. But if his tactical constellation leaves that new goalkeeper hopelessly exposed, we the fans will be travelling down the same road all over again.

Akpeyi was mercilessly massacred by fans after failing to stop Mahrez freekick in the 2019 Afcon semi-final . All the fans have developed collective amnesia when it comes to remembering that Ndidi committed a stupid foul in a delicate area in the dying minutes to start with. 10 years from now, Uzoho will be remembered for that 1st goal against Saudi Arabia with nobody remembering the player who committed the yeye foul that led to the useless freekick to start with. In fact, Saudi Arabia's second goal came about from another worthless free kick and a pathetic defensive wall that fell like a hopeless sand castle that was hit by sea water !

It would not bother me one bit if Uzoho and/or Okoye is replaced, I am not a huge fan of either of them anyway. But I would be mindful and sensitive in my critique their performances. Under the right tutelage and within a formation with defenders who are dialled into their responsibilities and other outfield players who know what they are doing, these 2 guys can be better.

Uzoho and Okoye should not be vilified, they should be encouraged to be the very best they can be!

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