Goalkeepers can sometimes be unheralded species, with most of the acclaim going to players further up the field.
While the midfielders and forward players hug most of the attention, the value of a quality goaltender can never be overestimated.
Unfortunately, goalkeeping is not the biggest strength in the Super Eagles at the moment, but we have been lucky enough to have some great goalies in the past.
In this article, we dig deep into the history of Nigerian football and pick out the stand-out keepers that have manned the posts for the national team.
5. Wilfred Agbonavbare
Wilfred Agbonavbare was part of the great Nigerian team of the early-to-mid 90s. He was back-up to Peter Rufai in the squad that won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and reached the second round of the FIFA World Cup in the USA.
In total, he made 15 appearances for the Eagles.
While he spent a good chunk of his prime international career as the No. 2, he was first choice at Spanish club, Rayo Vallecano for much of the peak years of his career in the 90s.
He spent 6 years at Vallecano, making 189 appearances.
On the domestic club scene, Agbonavbare spent most of his early years at New Nigeria Bank, while he also had a brief spell with BCC Lions.
4. Emmanuel Okala
Emmanuel Okala was in the Green Eagles squad that lifted Nigeria’s first Cup of Nations title in 1980. That Nations Cup success was the crowning moment of Okala’s national team career, which spanned almost a decade.
He made his debut in 1972, and went on to earn 59 caps for the country.
Okala was also in the team that claimed the football gold medal at the All Africa Games in 1973, staged in Lagos, while he helped the team to a bronze medal at the 1978 Cup of Nations.
He was part of the revered Enugu Rangers team of the 70s, winning the Challenge Cup in successive years between 1974 and 1977, while Rangers also claimed the Africa Cup Winners Club in 1977.
In total, Okala helped Rangers to five league titles and four Challenge Cup trophies on the domestic scene. He was named African Footballer of the Year in 1978.
If Okala was still active in this era of online football betting, his shot-stopping abilities would have made him a favourite with Nigerian bettors.
According to mybettingsites.com, many online betting sites are now delving into funky new markets like clean sheets and goalkeeper saves! Okala would have been a very popular and regular selection!
Unfortunately, the current set of Nigerian keepers aren’t the most reliable. The Eagles hardly keep any clean sheets these days!
3. Best Ogedegbe
Before the days of Peter Rufai and Vincent Enyeama, there was Best Ogedegbe.
Ogedegbe’s stint with the national team was relatively short, but his exploits in domestic club football make him one of the best goalkeepers to ever represent the country.
The goalie played for Shooting Stars, and then Abiola Babes, and was part of the Shooting team that claimed the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1976- Nigeria’s first continental club trophy. He famously scored the decisive penalty in the semi-final shootout victory over Zamalek.
Along with that African title, he also helped Shooting to two league titles and two Challenge Cup crowns.
The late Ogedegbe famously displaced the great Emmanuel Okala as the country’s No. 1 goalkeeper at the 1980 Cup of Nations- which Nigeria won- and was also part of the team at the 1982 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
2. Peter Rufai
Peter Rufai is arguably the first modern day goalkeeping superstar for the Super Eagles, following his exploits with the team in the mid-90s.
With the prevalence of television and internet, Rufai’s brilliance was captured in much more detail compared to his predecessors, allowing football fans to follow and document the true greatness of Dodo Mayana.
Rufai was the man between the sticks when Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, and later that year, he was an instrumental figure as the Eagles beat Bulgaria and Greece en route to the Round of 16 of the World Cup in the USA.
In total, he made 65 appearances for the Super Eagles, and even managed to score one goal, a penalty in a 6-0 victory over Ethiopia in 1993.
At club level, Rufai made his name on the domestic scene with Stationary Stores, before heading to Europe, where he played in Belgium for the most part, but also had stints in Portugal, Netherlands and Spain.
1. Vincent Enyeama
Vincent Enyeama was the deputy to Ike Shorunmu at Korea/Japan 2002, but when his chance to shine came in the final group game- a dead rubber for the Eagles against England- he grasped it with both hands.
The shot-stopper kept a clean sheet against the former world champions, including making a supreme save to deny Paul Scholes as Nigeria held England to a goalless draw.
That was the watershed match that effectively confirmed the changing of the guard and installed Enyeama as Nigeria’s new No. 1. He went on to play in two more World Cups in 2010 and 2014 (Nigeria missed out on the 2006 edition in Germany), and featured in four Africa Cup of Nations.
In total, Enyeama made 101 appearances for the Super Eagles.
He shone brilliantly on the domestic club scene, helping Enyimba to a couple of CAF Champions League titles in 2003 and 2004. That dominant team also claimed three successive league titles between 2001 and 2003.
After making his mark with Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel, with whom he won the Isreali league title and competed in the group phase of the UEFA Champion League, Enyeama earned a move to French club, Lille, where he further cemented his status as not only one of the best goalkeepers in Africa, but also, one of the very best in the world.
Special mentions to the likes of Peter Fregene, Alloysius Agu, Ike Shorunmu, and other great goalkeepers that have represented Nigeria. The country has certainly been blessed with some of the safest hands in the past- hopefully that will continue to be the case moving forward.