Sunday, June 23, 2024

Afcon 2023: Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho backed by Nigeria boss Jose Peseiro – BBC


Francis Uzoho has been criticised for recent mistakes ahead of Afcon 2023
Nigeria head coach Jose Peseiro has offered his backing to under-fire goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, saying "every player makes mistakes".
Uzoho's form was the biggest talking point following the Super Eagles' recent friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Mozambique.
The Omonia Nicosia stopper, 24, had an error-strewn run. His most glaring mistake came against Saudi Arabia when he misjudged a flighted delivery, palming it into his own net.
"In Nigeria, every time they attack the goalkeepers," Peseiro told BBC Sport Africa.
"Why don't they attack the strikers who miss goals? It is the same."
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Uzoho has yet to make a single appearance for his Cypriot club side this season. With his form suffering and confidence severely dented, a significant portion of supporters are in favour of his removal from the starting line-up.
However, Peseiro is backing his number one, who made his international debut aged 19.
"If I change them every time, or punish them when they make mistakes, one day I won't have any players, because every player makes mistakes," he said.
"We understand and accept that the fans are free to shout or speak. It is normal.
"Me, Uzoho and the players accept that. It is my obligation and my responsibility to keep the confidence and support our players."
A starter at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Uzoho has been a virtual ever-present since Peseiro took charge of Nigeria in May 2022.
The Portuguese included three other goalkeepers in his most recent squad but resisted pressure to drop Uzoho following the 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia, handing him another full 90 minutes against Mozambique.
"The only problem for me is if Uzoho doesn't resist (the criticism)," he added.
"The criticism is good for us also – sometimes it can open our eyes. But I know that, in Nigeria, people prefer to attack the goalkeeper.
"With me, Uzoho has only made one mistake until now."
Uzoho has played European club football for Omonia Nicosia, including a match against Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford in October last year
October's friendlies were preparation for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers which begin in November.
Nigeria kick off their campaign with fixtures against Lesotho at home and away to Zimbabwe.
Peseiro, whose managerial career also includes spells in charge of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, hopes to lead the Super Eagles to the World Cup in North America.
And he has declared himself pleased with progress so far.
"We had two goals for this camp," he revealed. "The first was to create a great environment. The second to prepare for Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
"We played a good game against Saudi Arabia, showed good quality.
"Against Mozambique, I liked the first half. The second half I didn't like too much. The team relaxed, didn't increase the speed and gave chances to the opponent to counter-attack.
"I'd like to do more preparation, play one or two matches next week, but it is impossible.
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"When I signed my contract, my ambition was to take Nigeria to the World Cup and make them African champions.
"You must beat Lesotho and Zimbabwe, but you cannot think it's easy.
"Before, it's possible you could see the big difference between the teams but that is no longer true. Teams are closing the gaps."
Nonetheless, Nigeria will be expected to claim maximum points from the two games, whoever starts in goal.
Israel-based Adebayo Adeleye was in goal for the 3-2 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying victory over Sierra Leone in June.
He was part of the squad for Saudi Arabia and Mozambique but has yet to be given a proper crack of the whip.
Maduka Okoye, first choice for the 2021 Afcon in Cameroon, faced a severe backlash after the tournament and has yet to rediscover his best form over 18 months later.
Chippa United goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali is being touted as a totally new option by some.
However, Peseiro might be more concerned about the fitness of Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze.
Both forwards sustained hamstring injuries against Saudi Arabia, most likely ruling them out of next month's World Cup qualifiers.
"We want all our best players fit and available," Peseiro confirmed.
"But I feel the team has improved. I know my players better and we have two or three in the same positions with the same or not-too-different qualities."
Jose Peseiro's hopes of leading Nigeria's World Cup qualifying campaign could well rest on performances at Afcon 2023
Peseiro's chances of leading Nigeria to the World Cup appear contingent upon performances at next year's Afcon in Ivory Coast.
The 63-year-old's current contract ends after the tournament.
The widely-held consensus is that only a fourth continental title for Nigeria would be enough to keep him in post beyond February, a fact that makes his continued support for the struggling Uzoho all the more intriguing.
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The Afcon draw sees the Super Eagles in Group A alongside the hosts, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, who shocked Peseiro's team in qualifying, beating them 1-0 in Abuja.
"If you want to win the Afcon you need to accept the draw," Peseiro said. "Our opponents are equally good and dangerous.
"We are better than Guinea-Bissau but remember they beat us at home, so we must be ready for all the teams with the same mentality and attitude."
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