Like Enyeama, Like Nwabali!

    Stanley Nwabali

    By Ikenwa Ashibuogwu Nnabuogor

    Vincent Enyeama needed just a break out performance in an Eagles’ shirt to announce his arrival into the Eagles’ fold that had him becoming a landlord of sorts and wearing a centurion helmet.

    The setting was the 2002 FIFA World Cup last group game against England which was insignificant after Eagles had booked their early flight tickets back to Lagos following defeats to Argentina and Sweden in the group games, and Enyeama chose the big game to dine with the royals.

    The game ended goalless but the young Enyimba goalkeeper parried, blocked and saved his way to the Eagles’ wings and remained there a decade and half after.

    Unsung, unheralded in the beginning but song, celebrated and respected at sun set though his career ended in unsavoury circumstances, Enyeama remains a national hero till date.

    Enter Nwabali, same route as Enyeama, both were Elephants in the local scene and seems to be riding Enyeama’s same luck to international stardom, rumours of a move to Belgium further heightens his meteoric rise within an incredible short period.

    The South Africa-based shot stopper benefited from the goalkeeping crisis that seemed to break the Eagles’ wings, Maduka Okoye’s move to Watford became nightmarish to him and brutally limited his Eagles’ consolidation, erstwhile first choice, Francis Uzoho letting in the enemies at will and causing Eagles’ more and more heartbreaks, coaches’ confidence not assured for “diminutive” Israel-based goalkeeper Adebayo Adeleye, and the forced lot fell on the bulky Chippa United goalkeeper which he’s grabbed with both hands.

    Fans had endured heart attacks from unimpressive Uzoho and were not expecting miracles in Cote D’Ivoire until surgically, Nwabali turned out to become the result of the operation to save the team.

    Coach Jose Peseiro was forced to dump first choice Uzoho to bravely haul another “Enyeama” into the deep end in their 2023 AFCON opener against Equatorial Guinea and typically, Eagles stuttered to a disappointing 1-1 draw, however, Nwabali was not culpable for the goal conceded.

    Peseiro took his gamble further starting Nwabali against hosts and perennial rivals, Cote D’Ivoire and the bulky star came out smelling of roses, putting his whole weight behind the line a mouthwatering twice and inspiring the great win.

    Nwabali wasn’t afraid to organize his defence, one of the significant shortcomings of Uzoho, he barked, screamed, shouted and calmed down his defence line and returnee captain William Troost-Ekong led his men to “obey” the brand new little ship captain.

    The former Katsina United goalkeeper has come to stay with his superlative performance and it’s as good as it gets for the new guide, a tough tall bar he set for himself and it seems he’s just started.

    Nwabali gets back between the sticks in the crucial final group against Guinea Bissau and it will take a surprise showing by the group’s whipping boys to pull a shocker against Nwabali and company and the promising goalkeeper will surely bring his gloves along to stop the wounded Wild Dogs and haul his team into the knockout round.

    Nwabali needs all the boosts and confidence he can get and he will get them full dose by getting involved and from the look of things, Peseiro isn’t looking elsewhere, Nwabali has come to stay.

    Rumoured Belgium move to title contenders Union Gilloise is sweet music to the ears and he could be ending up at a bigger club after AFCON, should Nwabali parry, punch and save his embattled team into another AFCON title, who knows?

    After all, anything can happen in football nowadays.

    By Ikenwa Ashibuogwu Nnabuogor is a Nigerian Journalist based in Lagos.

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