One of the best shot-stoppers in Africa, Vincent Enyeama has been the undisputed first choice in goal for Nigeria, who have a trio of quality options between the posts. While the Super Eagles have had their fair share of ups and downs and many of their players have fallen in and out of favour, Enyeama has stayed a fan favourite in his home country and a first choice for the many Nigeria coaches. It’s a station ‘The Cat’ has comfortably held since taking over the position from Ike Shorunmu in Nigeria’s final match at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. After two losses in the so-called Group of Death in Korea/Japan, the then-19-year-old was called on for the Super Eagles’ final contest against England and helped hold the Three Lions to a scoreless draw.
Except for a time during the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations under controversial coach Berti Vogts, his grip on the starting spot has rarely slackened, and he’s starred for the side at the 2004, 2006 and 2010 AFCONs, leading them to third place in each of the events. Despite missing out on qualification for Germany 2006 with the Super Eagles, he has an excellent record in FIFA World Cup preliminary matches, losing just once in his 20 appearances while conceding only 11 goals. In the qualifiers for South Africa 2010, he kept a clean sheet in eight of the 10 matches he played.
One of his shining moments with the national team came earlier this year at the continental finals in Angola in a hard-fought quarter-final bout with Zambia. Though the west Africans were largely outplayed, Enyeama and his defence held the match scoreless until it went all the way to a post-match penalty shootout. Once there, he accomplished a rare match-winning double by saving a penalty kick and converting the winner himself. It was an ironic vindication for the net-minder who used to be substituted before shootouts by his Nigerian club Enyimba. But continental watchers were not entirely surprised with his exploits since the goalkeeper also stopped three penalty kicks and scored one of his own in the quarter-final shootout with Tunisia in the 2006 Cup of Nations.
Enyeama won the African Champions League twice with the most successful domestic club Enyimba, and he’s impressed European club watchers since moving to Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2007. He was named Player of the Season in Israel in 2009, and he’s been on the radar of several of Europe’s biggest clubs over the last two years, including sides in Turkey, Spain and England. Arsenal were rumoured to be very close to signing the keeper only for the deal to break down over the transfer fee. The interest is understandable given the player’s athleticism, leadership and ability to pull off acrobatic saves. The only knock against him is his height, which is a bit short for a world-class goalkeeper at 1.8m. But, like most ‘cats,’ he usually makes up for it with his reflexes and killer instinct.