Nigeria legend Austin Jay-Jay Okocha has hit out at Jose Peseiro and the technical team of the Super Eagles for leaving goalkeeper Maduka Okoye out of the squad for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2023).
The 50-year-old believes Okoye is better suited to the national team's play and would have been a great asset in Ivory Coast, where Nigeria will face the hosts, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in Group A.
Okoye, who has been capped 16 times by Nigeria since his debut in 2019, was a surprise omission from the Super Eagles’ squad for the tournament.
Peseiro opted to name Omonia’s Francis Uzoho, Enyimba’s Olorunkele Ojo and Chippa United’s Stanley Nwabili as his choices for the goalkeeping department, with Uzoho all but set to be Nigeria’s starting shot-stopper in the tournament.
AFCON 2023: ‘Okoye’s omission strange’
Okocha is, however, of the opinion that Okoye has been treated unfairly by Nigerians since making his debut at the AFCON two years ago in Cameroon, where the Super Eagles suffered a round of 16 exit.
The Udinese goalkeeper was in post when Nigeria were beaten 1-0 by Tunisia in the 2021 AFCON and came under intense criticism for the goal he conceded.
The 24-year-old former Sparta Rotterdam and Watford goalkeeper was blamed for Youssef Msakni’s long-range effort that turned out to be the winner and has since fallen down the pecking order in the national team.
Okocha, though, cannot understand why Peseiro would drop the only goalkeeper playing in a top European league. In his view, Okoye remains one of Nigeria’s safest pair of hands out there and should’ve been included in the squad for the AFCON.
“He is the one keeper that has the type of training and football upbringing that we need in a goalkeeper in the national team. But he is excluded. It’s strange,” Okocha told journalist Osasu Obayiuwana.
“The way he was handled [after the Round of 16 game against Tunisia] talks about the quality of player management in the national team.”
Okoye has made three appearances in all competitions for Udinese this season since returning from injury while keeping one clean sheet in the process.
The Super Eagles start their campaign with a game against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, January 14 and, whoever he decides to play between the sticks, Peseiro will be hoping to prove Okocha wrong,