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Who will step into Ikeme’s boots for critical WC qualifier?


/ by Biyi Akangbe
The shocking withdrawal of Carl Ikeme from between the posts as he fights his own medical battles off the field has left the Super Eagles’ management and coaching team with a tough decision as to who will step up to the plate for the forthcoming world cup qualifier against Cameroon.

31 year old Ikeme, who has also become one of the most popular figures in English Championship football through his 14 year tenure at Wolverhampton Wanderers, announced last month that he is battling acute leukaemia. The disease was identified during routine blood tests in the run up to the English football season.

He started chemotherapy treatment immediately, and although he remains the number one choice for both Wolves and the Super Eagles, he will be out of action for some time.

Choosing a back up

While Wolves have signed ex England player John Ruddy to cover Ikeme’s absence, the choice for Nigeria is less clear-cut, with three players vying for the position. The obvious choice would be Ikechukwu Ezenwa. The Chan Eagles captain has represented Nigeria in the past, and has been in and around the squad for the past two years. He is also Nigeria based, and seen as the man in possession.

However, the call up of experienced keeper Dale Akpeyi into the squad has muddied the waters. The 31 year old gave an impressive performance in his senior debut back in 2015, and has since represented his country on two other occasions. He is match fit, as he is currently playing domestic football in South Africa.

Gernot Rohr, the Technical Adviser for the Super Eagles also threw a third name into the mix. Dele Alampasu is one of the most exciting young goalkeepers in the country. At only 21, it would be a brave move to call him up now, but many commentators believe he is ready.

A quick look at the football betting UK sites reveals that Nigeria are fancied to overcome Cameroon on Friday, with most offering odds around the 4/5 mark for a Nigeria win, while Cameroon are seen as 10/3 outsiders. But who do the bookmakers think will start in goal? Ezenwa is seen as the warm favourite, but it is really too close to call.

Strong competition

Call ups for Akpeyi and Alampasu have been seen by some to cast doubt on whether the management team have full confidence in Ezenwa, and the words of Super Eagles goalkeeping coach Enrico Pionetti did little to dispel the conspiracy theories.

In his trademark combination of broken English and wild gesticulations, he told reporters: “We are not completely satisfied with the goalkeepers that we have worked with for about one month.”

Goalkeeping legend and assistant coach Aloy Agu was keen to play down any suggestion that Ezenwa was not up to the job, however. He commented: “If Ezenwa proves his mettle, he might be goal ahead of Akpeyi and Alampasu. All we want is to see their readiness and fitness to be the best.”
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