By Ajibade Olusesan March 17, 2018
Nigeria has produced some great goalkeepers, with most of them so good that it is almost impossible to come up with the best among them. From Sam Ibiam, Carl O’Dwyer , Eyo Essien, Emmanuel Ominunu, Olu Onagoruwa, Joe Erico to the likes of Amusa Adisa, Alloy Agwu, Willy Okpara, David Ngodigha, to Wilfred Agbonavbare Nigeria’s history is replete with great shot stoppers.
The five below are arguably the best the country has ever produced.
He’s regarded as the longest serving goalkeeper in the history of Nigeria as he played across three decades from the 1960s up till the 1980s.
Fregene broke into national consciousness in the 60’s with stellar showing for ECN FC and got rewarded with a slot in the team to the 1968 Olympics; he was best remembered for his heroics in Nigeria’s 2-2 draw with Brazil at the Games. He was the first choice until 1971 when he lost his place in the then Green Eagles.
His international career in seemed over for more than a decade until he resurfaced to the lead the line for the then defending champions in the 1982 African Cup of Nations in Libya, although it was a calamitous campaign for Nigeria in Libya as the team that had won the AFCON trophy two years earlier terribly capitulated.
He was larger than life during his time; a goalkeeper with a frightening height. Whether he featured for Enugu Rangers, his club side, or the national team, he was the most feared last man standing. He had a long reach that complemented his reflexes; his goal kicks were as vicious as a rocket; Okala was the master.
The former Onitsha Red Devils goalie spent less than a decade in the national team but made a lasting impression with his remarkable achievement which included victory at the African Cup of Nations in 1980. His exploits with Rangers were more pronounced; he was the most outstanding player as the Flying Antelopes won the 1977 African Cup Winners tournament. He was even named the African Player of the Year in 1978 by African Sports Journalists Union.
Sadly, Okala left the national team in acrimonious circumstances after he was overlooked in Nigeria’s triumph at AFCON in 1980 but he had done enough to etch his name in history.
Segun Odegbami was arguably the most popular figure as Nigeria won her maiden AFCON title in 1980 on home soil, but Ogedegbe was one of the top performers held in high esteem by jubilant fans. He had helped his club side IICC of Ibadan to victory in the African Cup Winners title in 1976, the first by a Nigerian outfit, but was constantly behind Enugu Rangers’ Okala in pecking order in the national team. Surprisingly, Coach Otto Gloria dropped the more illustrious Okala for Best who kept the goal throughout the tournament. He was arguably the most skillful goalkeeper the country had ever had; as a goalie he scored many penalties for his club IICC and frightened many opponents into losing theirs with his usual psychological tricks. He would go into a game boasting no one would get a ball past him and most times it turned out that way, he was a master trickster.
Inua Lawal Rigogo:
So much folklore about the former ECN shot stopper; he reigned in the 60’s and many old generation of football fans who are still alive today regard him as the most flamboyant goalie. He was a showman, his usual acrobatic displays made many people believed he was not ordinary. He was so good at the tricks that even revered Ghana President Kwame Nkurmah was so enamored he nicknamed the Nigerian as ‘the Flying Cat’ when the Eagles played against the Black Stars.
He possesses the record as the goalkeeper that conceded the least number of goals for the national team having conceded just four despite playing for more than eight years for the country.
He might not have the flamboyance of Ogedegbe, Rigogo or the frightening reputation of Okala, to the new generation of Nigerian football fans, Rufai is the best the country has ever produced. He was the first man to be in goal for the country at the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and one of the longest serving shot stoppers in the country. He became so popular through his efforts at Stationery Stores in the late 80s and even took his career to Europe where he featured for Lokeren, Beveren, GoAhead Eagles and Deportivo la Coruna. There were good goalkeepers during his time with the national team but anytime he was around he would still be picked ahead of the likes of Agu, Ngodigha, Okpara and even Agbonvbare.
Anytime Nigeria ran into trouble, he was always the man the country turned to just like in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup.
Culled from https://newtelegraphonline.com/2018/03/top-five-nigerian-goalkeepers-time/ By Ike Onwubuya