The Watford defender shrugged off criticisms about his form to help Nigeria keep a clean sheet against Egypt on Tuesday, but he insists he had help from another
Super Eagles stand-in captain Williams Troost-Ekong has applauded goalkeeper Maduka Okoye for showing top qualities that have elevated him to be the national team’s number one shot-stopper.
Okoye only made his international debut in October 2019, coming on for the injured Francis Uzoho during a friendly against Brazil in Singapore.
At the time, he was the third-choice goalie behind Uzoho, who kept goal for Nigeria at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and Daniel Akpeyi, who saw more minutes of action as the Eagles claimed a bronze medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Dusseldorf-born gloveman has since grown from strength to strength, becoming Sparta Rotterdam’s first-team goalkeeper before earning a multi-million euro move to Watford late last year.
Despite the change of coaching crew, Okoye retained the faith of interim boss Augustine Eguavoen and was handed the number one gloves in the Super Eagles’ opening group game against Egypt at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
The 22-year-old put up an impressive performance alongside the makeshift centre-back pairing of Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo as Nigeria kept out a fearsome Egyptian attack led by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.
Troost-Ekong is particularly pleased with how far the youngster has come and his vital input that helped the Eagles keep a clean sheet in their first match at the Afcon.
“We had a few players making their debuts at AFCON, including Maduka, who is a Watford player now,” Ekong told Watford’s official website.
“I think he’s been very consistent since he came in, which can be quite rare for a young goalkeeper. I remember his first game where he made his debut against Brazil in Singapore, in a friendly game two years ago, and ever since he has been very consistent.
“He is always coming for the ball, talks a lot during the game and is reliable, which is the main thing you want from someone behind you. He is a calming presence to our team and I’m really comfortable playing with him. I think he’s enjoying the opportunity to step up and secure his place as the No.1 for Nigeria.”
Following their dominant victory over Egypt’s Pharaohs, the Super Eagles have been installed as the overwhelming favourites to lift the Afcon title in Cameroon.
The three-time continental champions will have the chance to confirm their ratings when they meet Sudan on Saturday. A win over the Falcons of Jediane would guarantee Nigeria a place in the competition’s knockout round, with a game to spare.