With the Nigeria squad having the youngest average age, it goes without saying that they have their fair share of young talent. One of the young players looking to make their mark in Russia is 19-year-old goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.
With five of Uzoho’s six national team caps being consecutive starts for Nigeria in their most recent friendlies, the youngster appears to be the first-choice keeper ahead of the more experienced options in Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa. This decision came as a shock to many as the Nigerian has only made two starts for Deportivo de La Coruña in La Liga. To his credit he played in 26 matches for Deportivo’s reserve team, however this is hardly preparation for the star-studded lineups he will face if played in Russia.
While earning the starting spot is proof Uzoho’s ability and hard work, his selection for Russia has been due in part to fortune. If not for Nigeria’s first choice and joint most capped player Vincent Enyeama’s early retirement from international duty and next choice Carl Ikeme’s ongoing battle with leukemia, Uzoho would likely be watching this World Cup from the comfort of his own home.
The faith that Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has put in Uzoho is another testament to his potential. The youngster has been praised for his ability to claim crosses and stop shots. This is not to say that it has all been smooth sailing. In typical goalkeeper fashion, Uzoho has been criticized for several goals he has conceded. The teenage has shown maturity in not shying away from criticism and claiming that the experience is all part of the learning curve. Due to the keeper’s youth and inexperience, he is destined to make errors. This will likely be the case if he is to start in Russia. However, Nigerians must realize that this is part of a bigger picture in preparing a potential number one for years to come. While he is a fantastic prospect with his best years ahead of him, this World Cup will certainly be a pivotal point in his career.