Goalkeeper Austin Ejide said he is in the best form of his career as he began his bid for a Nigeria recall six years after his last appearance. Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr is facing something of a goalkeeping puzzle ahead of March’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sierra Leon. First-choice Francis Uzoho is out of action for a lengthy period with a knee injury, while South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi despite being the most experienced keeper playing at the moment has struggled to convince fans he is the natural replacement. Others in line include Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who many feel lacks composure at the highest level, while youngster Maduka Okoye is relatively inexperienced.
Rohr has always maintained that the door remains open to any Nigerian playing regularly in a top flight and can make a positive contribution. The 35-year-old, who made his international debut almost two decades ago, has played all 21 matches for Israeli Premier League side Hapoel Hadera this season, but has not played for the Super Eagles since 2014. “I know the situation in Nigeria. I get positive remarks in Israel and being rated highly could be something that will pave the way,” Ejide said. “I’ve kept nine clean sheets this season and we all know that goalkeepers always get better with age. “I’ve also been following the Eagles and I believe that with my consistent performances in Israel, there is every chance it opens the door to the possibilities of another call-up.” Ejide made his Nigeria debut at just 17 against Namibia in Windhoek in 2001, but the following years saw him play second fiddle to Vincent Enyeama. Other than a small period in 2008 when then-coach Berti Vogts preferred him and Stephen Keshi gave him some game time, Ejide has never been the first choice for the Super Eagles. “I can never shut the international door to play for Nigeria again, I believe I have what it takes to get another chance,” he insisted. He also says his age should not be a barrier to a return to international football. “There are other goalkeepers who never gave up on international football despite their age or being overlooked,” he insisted. “At 46, Essam El-Hadary still played a major tournament for Egypt and I can hopefully follow in that footsteps. “I keep focusing on club football here, the more I do well, then I will continue to retain that hope of playing for my country again.” Ejide has become a cult hero in Hadera after helping Hapoel Hadera to Israeli top flight promotion in 2018 ending their 39 years in the lower leagues. He previously played in the country for Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Be’er Sheva between 2009 and 2015, but that was after a stint at Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel where he suffered two successive CAF Champions League final defeats in 2004 and 2005. He left the North African country after the Tunisian FA decided not to allow local clubs to sign foreign goalkeepers. Ejide then spent three years at French club SC Bastia before moving to Israel in 2009. He was part of the Nigeria squad to the Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and when they won in 2013. As well as the 2013 Confederations Cup, he was also in the squad for the 2002, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.