The last few weeks have been surreal for Stanley Nwabali, who has gone from relatively unknown to Nigeria’s first-choice goalkeeper at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024).
The 27-year-old was first scouted by Super Eagles boss Jose Peseiro last year, after which he was included in the Portuguese coach’s provisional squad for AFCON 2024, or AFCON 2023, as it is officially known.
Nwabali was later trusted with a starting spot when Nigeria faced Guinea in a pre-tournament friendly on 8 January in Abu Dhabi – a game which the Super Eagles lost 2-0.
However, the Chippa United goalkeeper has only gotten better since, gaining the trust of Peseiro and displacing Francis Uzoho as the first-choice shot-stopper of the national team.
With Nwabali finally getting his flowers from Nigerian fans, we take a look at his journey so far and his rise to becoming the Super Eagles’ no.1
His ligament injury was not as bad as first feared and he was cleared to feature against Angola in the AFCON quarter-finals on Friday, February 2.
In that match, the goalie once again shone as Nigeria booked their place in the AFCON semi-final.
He was subsequently named the man of the match for his heroics.
In spite of Nwabali's best efforts however, the Super Eagles lost the AFCON final to Ivory Coast.
Although the Chippa United player made five fine saves, Nigeria suffered a 2-1 loss to the hosts of the tournament.
But back to the man of the moment, here’s all you need to know about the new Super Eagles number one…
Nwabali incorrectly called Nwabili
Over the past few years, there has been a bit of confusion regarding Nwabali's surname, with some media outlets calling him ‘Nwabili'.
The mistake apparently started at Lobi Stars when he was registered as Nwabili instead of Nwabali.
Although this error was corrected in 2018, the name has lingered up until now.
Nwabali honoured with chieftaincy title
After his heroics during the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations, the Chippa United goalkeeper received a chieftaincy title in his hometown in Rivers State.
On Sunday, February 18, Nwabali was conferred with a chieftaincy title by His Royal Majesty, Nzeobi Amida, who is the ruler of the Mgbede community in Egbema Kingdom in Rivers State.
The goalkeeper was subsequently given the title Ugo Egbema, which translates as “The Pride of Egbema Kingdom.”
His Royal Majesty Nzeobi Amida said the honour was in recognition of Nwabali’s performance at the AFCON, which has brought prestige to the Egbema Kingdom.
Nwabali made his Super Eagles debut in 2021
When Nwabali featured against Guinea in a preparation game ahead of AFCON 2024, many thought it was the first time he was playing for the national team.
They were wrong. The goalkeeper actually made his international debut in 2021 when the Super Eagles suffered a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Mexico in an international friendly in the United States (US).
Although the said friendly was high profile, Nigeria’s team predominantly featured players from the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), with Ibrahim Sunusi, who plays for Major League Soccer (MLS) side CF Montreal, being the only exception.
Nwabali, who was on the books of NPFL side Enyimba at the time, started the game and, therefore, earned his first cap on that day.
Nwabali started career as a striker
Another interesting thing about Nwabali is that he began his career as a striker. He started his career at Go Round Football Club in Nigeria, where his youth coaches converted him from a striker to a goalkeeper.
The 27-year-old revealed this in a recent interview with Newtelegraphng, where he also opened up on why he loves to play with his feet.
“I also learned from many of my coaches at the clubs that, as a goalkeeper, I cannot just remain between the sticks but should also make forays up front to help the team,” he said.
Nwabali has played for four Nigerian clubs
Meanwhile, Nwabali featured for four different Nigerian clubs before moving to South Africa to play in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).
The Rivers State-born goalkeeper’s first professional club was Go Round FC, who are in the second tier of Nigerian football.
He then moved to the top-flight side of Enyimba, but he only spent a year with the Aba Warriors before swapping the Aba-based club for rivals Lobi Stars.
After one year, Nwabali was on the move again, this time joining Katsina United, from where he secured a move abroad.
Nwabali moved to Chippa United in 2022
Nwabali has paid his dues in the NPFL and he secured his first, and so far only, move outside of Nigeria when he completed a switch from Katsina United to Chippa United.
The shot-stopper joined the South African side at the start of the 2022/23 season and immediately established himself as their first-choice.
Nwabali’s impressive performances in the PSL, with seven clean sheets in 14 matches this season to date, are what caught the attention of Peseiro and the technical handlers of the Super Eagles to take him to AFCON 2024 and make him the country’s starting goalkeeper.