Does Okoye’s return to Super Eagles return put Nwabali’s position under threat?

Okoye Nwabali

It is a new dawn for Nigeria as former Super Eagles player Finidi George takes charge of the team in a competitive game for the first time against South Africa and Benin in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on June 7 and 10 respectively.

The former Enyimba manager already has his 26-man squad in place for the crunch fixtures and one interesting name back on the list is Maduka Okoye.

Okoye has been out of the national team picture since the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations where he came under heavy criticism for some of his performances, particularly the round of 16 clash against Tunisia where he was blamed for the goal which ended their journey in Cameroon.

It further compounded Nigeria’s serious problem in the goalkeeping department since Vincent Enyeama retired from international duty in 2015 with the likes of Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi not showing any stability between the sticks.

That all changed when a relatively unknown Stanley Nwabali starred at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast with the Super Eagles reaching the final before losing to the tournament hosts. Nwabali’s goalkeeping qualities was something not seen since Enyeama and fans instantly fell in love with him.

The love has not waned as they expect the Chippa United man the post once more against Bafana Bafana and the Cheetahs.

While, it is pleasing that Nigerians can get sleep knowing that there’s a confident goalkeeper in Nwabali, Okoye’s re-emergence is something that cannot be overlooked.

The 24-year-old’s career more or less dovetailed when he left Sparta Rotterdam for Watford, failing to establish himself at Vicarage Road and was sold to Pozzo family-affiliated Udinese last summer.

Even at the Stadio Friuli, he was second choice behind Marco Silvestri in the just-concluded season but everything changed when he made his first Serie A appearance in a 3-0 win over the impressive Bologna on December 30.

It was a big statement from the former Bayer Leverkusen academy player and he never looked back from that moment as he cemented his place in the Udinese squad and kept another clean sheet in a massive 1-0 win away at Juventus, arguably Udinese’s biggest victory of the season.

Okoye was once again alert as he kept a clean sheet on the final day of the season as Udinese defeated Frosinone 1-0 away from home to confirm their status in the Serie A for next season.

He made a total of 21 Serie A appearances and played from start to finish, keeping a total of five clean sheets and averaged 3.1 saves per game (72%).

All these show how rejuvenated Okoye is and it would only get better if Udinese show strong form next season. Playing in the Italian Serie A also gives Okoye more visibility and attention and it would be difficult to turn a blind eye on him.

He did show glimpses of his quality previously in a Super Eagles shirt but when a team is at sixes and sevens, it tends to affect the form of players inclusive of the goalkeeper.

The Super Eagles however seem more stabilised compared to the earlier years and Okoye could benefit from that with this return.

This is not to say Nwabali has lost his place in the Super Eagles but if Okoye continues to improve, he will not be ignored and it will only give coach Finidi a big selection headache, the kind of headache which is good in knowing he has two capable options.

That after all is something previous managers could not boast about and that points to a positive direction for the Super Eagles.

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