Nwabali, the Nigerian goalkeeper at the peak of a career full of pitfalls

The hero of the semi-final won on penalties against South Africa, the Nigerian goalkeeper is preparing to play the game of his life in the CAN final on Sunday at 21:00.

Torpedoed 4-0 for his first choice two and a half years ago, Stanley Bobo Nwabali thought he would never keep goal for Nigeria again. Called up just before the CAN, he will play the final on Sunday (21:00) in Abidjan against Ivory Coast.

And he doesn't even take revenge on a bunch of negative comments after the announcement of his participation in the tournament. “It's not time to talk about criticism,” answers the goalkeeper, chosen as the player of the semi-final against South Africa (1-1, 4 tab to 2) where he stopped two shots on goal.

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

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

He got through the first time, but with Nwabali in goal, Nigeria took four in a friendly in Mexico in July 2021. The goalkeeper was then playing for Lobi Stars in the country and was missing from the selection.

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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 to see matches from all over the world on the (app) Wyscout, but not from the South African championship, I don't know why. I asked friends who work there, they sent me the recordings. And so I said to the NFF, 'I want to go and supervise him in South Africa'.

“I went there, I saw him train, I met the player, the manager – thank you Chippa United! – the goalkeeper coach, the staff, I was at the game… I concluded that this guy has the ability to defend our goal, he was in competition with (Francis) Uzoho and (Ojo) Olorunleke and he deserved his place, on a regular basis,” explains the Portuguese technician.

“He's been fantastic throughout the tournament, and with no team experience,” said his captain William Troost-Ekong, “we've called him, and he's there. (In the semi-final) He stood out in stoppage time, but also in the match he defended fantastically and helped the defense.”

“I will tell my children that”

Trained at Go Round FC in Port-Harcourt, Nwabali, who only knew local clubs including the mighty Enyimba Aba, where he was a substitute (2019-2020), before Chippa, now has the opportunity to capitalize on the generation gap.

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

The hapless Uzoho was cursed for his mistake in the play-off against Ghana (0-0/1-1) which cost the Super Eagles a place at the 2022 World Cup.

By winning the final, Bobo Nwabali could join the legends of 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” “, the goalkeeper of the famous “UK Tourists” team, the progenitor of the selection, before independence, who toured friendly matches in the United Kingdom in 1949.

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

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