Stephen Keshi’s Super Eagles finally have their Cup of Nations destiny back in their own hands, and they have goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to thank.
Following the Republic of Congo’s opening two victories (against Nigeria and Sudan), and the Super Eagles’ own early struggles (they picked up only one point from their first three fixtures), it had looked like a major ask for the reigning champions to qualify for the Afcon.
However, a combination of a return to form for the West Africans and South Africa’s impressive form over Claude Le Roy’s side means Nigeria have usurped the Red Devils.
With one game to go, it is Nigeria and not Congo who sit second place in Group A.
It hadn’t always looked like Nigeria would manage to stay alive this far. Indeed, both of their last two victories (against Sudan and Congo) came in spite of fairly dire performances, even if they were littered with some moments of inspiration.
Despite winning 2-0 on the day, the Super Eagles’ triumph in Pointe-Noire was anything but comfortable.
It is telling that Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was the hero on the day and, in my eyes at least, the Super Eagles’ most important player.
The LOSC Lille keeper was called into action from the penalty spot when Godfrey Oboabona charged down an opponent elbow-first. The penalty was possibly harsh, but it was ultimately irrelevant as Enyeama dived to his right to thwart Thievy Bifouma.
The goalkeeper also demonstrated his catlike reactions late on to tip a close-range shot into touch, even if the attempt was ultimately ruled for offside.
Regardless of whether both saves were crucial in their own right, they each proved to be turning point in the contest. The first – from Bifouma’s penalty – appeared to remind Nigeria of their mortality and the Eagles sprang into life, surging forward in search of a second.
The second, in the dying moments, deflated Congo and allowed Nigeria to launch into attack once again. Almost immediately afterwards they were two to the good as Aaron Samuel’s spectacular effort confirmed the three points.
As I wrote on Twitter during the match: “Amidst the euphoria of the day, the elation of the moment, we must not forget Enyeama's two crucial saves – ultimately decisive.”
Latterly, the stopper has been nominated for both the CAF African Footballer of the Year award and the BBC African Player of the Year award. In terms of making valuable contributions, there aren’t too many who deserve either prize more than him.
He certainly got my vote after denying Bifouma. see more photos of him, his family and a private photo of him after training at the recently launched Akwa Ibom Staduim at Uyo, Nigeria. Before the great game against South Africa tomorrow
Photo of Vincent after train in Akwa Ibom staduim