In a move that took almost everyone by surprise, Nigeria manager Jose Peseiro opted to hand a competitive debut to Stanley Nwabali in his side’s opening game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations against Equatorial Guinea.
Nigeria were faced with a goalkeeping crisis in the months leading up to the start of the AFCON, with first choice goalkeeper Francis Uzoho a shadow of himself due to his inactivity at Cypriot club Omonia Nicosia.
Uzoho’s shortcomings were exposed during the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and friendly matches and it was thought his sins had been forgiven as he was heavily tipped to get the nod in goal against Equatorial Guinea.
Nwabali had played in two matches for the Super Eagles before the start of the AFCON – both of them friendlies – but won the goalkeeping battle against Uzoho despite his lack of experience on the international stage.
The Chippa United glovesman has confessed that he only found out he was starting on the night before the game against Equatorial Guinea and was instructed by Peseiro to keep the information to himself.
“To be honest it has been nice, it has been God throughout but I’m not the first choice.
“Uzoho is still the first choice; I only had an opportunity to play. I feel I have to do my best when I have an opportunity to play.
“I was not expecting to play the opening game but I’m ready even when I got the call-up but I was not sure of a starting place,” Nwabali said.
On how he got to know he was going to start against Equatorial Guinea and what Peseiro told him, Nwabali answered: “He didn’t talk to me initially. It was a day before our game, after our last training he came to me, ‘Stanley keep it to yourself, you are going to play’. I told him I’m always ready and not worried about it.”
After conceding seven goals in his first three matches, Nwabali kept his first clean sheet in Nigeria colours in the recent 1-0 win over Ivory Coast.
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