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CAN: Nwabali, Nigeria’s goalkeeper at the top of a career strewn with pitfalls

Torpedoed 4-0 for his first selection two and a half years ago, Stanley Bobo Nwabali thought he would never keep goal for Nigeria again.

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CAN: Nwabali, Nigeria’s goalkeeper at the top of a career strewn with pitfalls

Torpedoed 4-0 for his first selection two and a half years ago, Stanley Bobo Nwabali thought he would never keep goal for Nigeria again. Recalled just before the CAN, he will play the final on Sunday (9:00 p.m.) in Abidjan against Ivory Coast.

And he doesn't even take his revenge on the loads of negative comments upon the announcement of his tenure for the tournament. “This is not the time to talk about criticism,” replies the goalkeeper, elected man of the match in the semi-final against South Africa (1-1, 4 tab to 2) where he stopped two shots on goal .

“It happens in football. When fans expect more from you, they sometimes say things like that, but it's not important to me, I just see it as motivation to continue working and help my team and my country,” adds placidly the goalkeeper of Chippa United, a club from Port-Elizabeth in South Africa.

Guarding the Super Eagles cage, “it’s a source of joy for me,” he told the New Telegraph newspaper. “Honestly, I prayed to be called. I wanted to wear my country's jersey again, and I'm happy that my dream came true.

He passed for the first time, but Nigeria with Nwabali in goal took four in a friendly match in Mexico in July 2021. The goalkeeper then played for Lobi Stars in the country and disappeared from the selection.

But not definitely. “I received information about him from the Federation (NFF),” says his coach José Peseiro.

“I wanted to see it, but it was impossible, it's easy on (the application) Wyscout to see matches from all over the world, but not from the South African Championship, I don't know why. I asked friends who work there, they sent me videos. And so I said to the NFF: I want to go and supervise him in South Africa.”

“I went there, saw him training, met the player, the manager – thank you Chippa United! - the goalkeeping coach, the staff, I attended a match... I concluded that this guy had the ability to defend our goal, he was in competition with (Francis) Uzoho and (Ojo) Olorunleke and he earned his place, on a regular basis,” explains the Portuguese technician.

“He was fantastic throughout the tournament, and without the team's experience,” said his captain William Troost-Ekong, “we called him, and he is there. (In the semi-final) He stood out in the penalty shootout, but also in the match he made fantastic saves and he helped the defense.”

Trained at Go Round FC in Port-Harcourt, Nwabali, who has only known local clubs, including the powerful Enyimba Aba, where he was a substitute (2019-2020), before Chippa, now has a chance to seize in a hollow generational.

Since the retirement of Vincent Enyeama in 2015, no one has established himself in goal for Nigeria, which has changed goalkeepers at each tournament: Uzoho (World-2018), Daniel Akpeyi (CAN-2019) and Maduka Okoye (CAN- 2022).

The unfortunate Uzoho is damned by his blunder in the play-offs against Ghana (0-0/1-1) which cost the Super Eagles their place in the 2022 World Cup.

By winning the final, Bobo Nwabali could join in the legend the great names of the past, Best Ogedegbe (CAN-1980), Peter Rufai (CAN-1994) and Enyeama (CAN-2013) or even the legendary Sam Henshaw Ibiam, nicknamed “ "The Black Magnet", goalkeeper of the famous "UK Tourists" team, ancestor of the selection, before independence, who had toured friendly matches in the United Kingdom in 1949.

“It’s a story that I will tell my children,” he concludes with a smile, “I never imagined that it would happen to me. Now I'm playing for the Super Eagles, I'm going to play in the final, I'm so happy deep down. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything so strong.”

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