If all goes according to plan, Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama will play in his third FIFA World Cup™ next month. He is fresh off winning the Marc-Vivien Foe award given to the best African player in France's Ligue 1, and following up on his impressive performances for the Super Eagles at South Africa 2010, Enyeama has high expectations.
Although Nigeria have struggled in their last two World Cups, the Lille custodian tells FIFA.com that the African champions can make deep in-roads in Brazil after being drawn into Group F against Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina.
“I think we are going to make big progress," Enyeama said. "We are focused on the World Cup, to make Africa the proudest continent. Ghana almost reached the semi-finals four years ago. We are going to achieve a better result and be the first African team to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup."
The 31-year-old first played for Nigeria at Korea/Japan 2002, when coach Festus Onigbinde gave the then 19-year-old a starting place in their final group game against England, after the team had already been eliminated. Enyeama's outstanding display helped the Super Eagles to a goalless draw and was a sign of things to come for the Kaduna-born goalkeeper, who took over the No1 jersey from Ike Shorunmu when the veteran retired shortly after that World Cup. Since then, Enyeama has been an ever-present for his country, shining at South Africa 2010 and last year's FIFA Confederations Cup, and winning the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2013 - a tournament the West Africans are hoping to defend in Morocco next year.
It will be the third time in a row that Nigeria will be facing Argentina at the World Cup, but more importantly for Enyeama, a match-up with France in the second round could be on the cards: “If we play against France, it will be interesting, but if we play against Switzerland, it will also be interesting. The important thing is to qualify.
"Playing France for a place in the last eight is not really what matters to me right now, I just want the team to make it to the second round. But maybe we will come out first, and then we will not have to play against France.”
Ghana almost reached the semi-finals four years ago. We are going to be the first African team to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Enyeama started his career with Ibom Stars, before moving to Nigerian giants Enyimba, with whom he twice won the CAF Champions League. A short stint with Heartland FC followed.
He then embarked on his overseas career in 2005 when he joined Bnei Yehuda in Israel. His performances with the side were so impressive that Israeli glamour club Hapoel Tel Aviv put in an offer and Enyeama made the short move across town. With Hapoel he played in the UEFA Champions League and even managed to score a goal in the play-off round against Red Bull Salzburg.
He joined Ligue 1 club Lille in 2011, but failed to break into the first side and returned to Israel in 2012, where he joined Maccabi Tel Aviv on loan, winning the championship with them. He returned to Lille a year later and was made first choice goalkeeper by coach Rene Girard and has not looked back since.
“I always wanted to be a first-choice goalie anywhere I played. I always wanted to be the person who puts the smile on people’s face. At first it was not the case here, but it changed. I don’t work for trophies. I work to improve my game, to help my team. Trophies are just the icing on the cake.”
Foe award elevates Enyeama confidence
Enyeama has enjoyed a highly successful season with Lille, helping the club to third in the league, keeping 21 clean sheets in the process and coming close to breaking the Ligue 1 record for a goalkeeper without conceding a goal. However, those statistics are far from the most important thing to him.
He said: “I don’t care about statistics. I just want to see how far I can go and help my team. When I am no longer effective, then I leave the scene. I also do not care to be the most-capped player in the history of the Super Eagles - things like that.”
But even if Enyeama is not chasing records, his performances were greatly appreciated this season, as the awarding of the Marc-Vivien Foe award shows. “This is a great trophy, I'm really happy," he said. "It is inspiring because it bears the name of a great player - Marc-Vivien Foe - who worked so hard to succeed and save his team and his country. I think this award will give me more confidence for the World Cup.”