Members of the Super Eagles team to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Orange African Nations Championship (CHAN) returned to Nigeria on Sunday night without three of their top performers, who are all on the cusp of sealing deals with South African soccer clubs.
Ejike Uzoenyi — voted tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) after netting three goals (including a 59th-minute-of-the-eleventh-hour equaliser in the pulsating clash with Morocco) and rendering a number of assists — is all but sure to sign a deal with CAF Champions league finalists, Orlando Pirates.
Similarly, Warri Wolves centre-half Azubuike Egwuekwe and Sunshine Stars Solomon Kwambe are very likely to join South African teams, while World Cup-bound Egwueke will be joining Bidvest Wits, a team that has been scouring the continent for a replacement for recently-released Musa Bilankulu.
“Super Eagles and Warri Wolves defender Azubuike Egwuekwe, having done his medical and with Emmanuel Ibru on the ground in South Africa to finalize the deal, will hopefully sign for Wits FC of South Africa”, South Africa-headquartered football website, MTNFootball.com confirmed.
“Giant Egwuekwe is the exact type of centre back that coach Gavin Hunt loves to work with — tall, good in the air, powerful and composed... while Ejike Uzoenyi will likely sign for Orlando Pirates of South Africa. The likely destination of Sunshine Stars right back Solomon Kwanbe is not known yet”.
Uzoenyi’s imminent contract with Orlando Pirates comes as little surprise, considering his impressive performances at the tournament, particularly in the big matches, save the semi-final ouster by Ghana when he was unusually quiet.
He sparked the resurgence against Mozambique in Nigeria’s second group-phase match, supplying the assist from which Ifeanyi Ede’s one-time strike brought scores to 1-1, before Nigerian went on to trump the South-eastern Africans 4-2.
The Super Eagle was even more magnificent in the group decider against South Africa, scoring a brace and narrowly missing out on a hat trick with a stunning volley that ricocheted off the cross bar, as Nigeria — against widespread expectations — eliminated the star-studded hosts from the tournament.
In the quarterfinal match-up with Morocco, the North Africans were leading by three goals at half time, and Ugonna Uzochukwu and Rabiu Ali looked to have sparked a comeback with two early-second-half goals in the 48th and 60th minutes. But with two minutes of regulation time remaining, Nigeria was still trailing Morocco by two goals to three.
Uzoenyi stepped up in the 89h minute, sold a dummy to two Moroccan defenders and whipped a curling effort that went in off the underside of the bar to complete unarguably one of the most magnificent comebacks in the sport. He then supplied the assist for substitute Aboubakar Ibrahim to tap home the winning goal in the 111th minute. In all three matches, Uzoenyi was voted man-of-the-match.
Uzoenyi would be looking to revive the fortunes of the defending champions of the South African league, who are currently placed eighth on the league log (albeit with five matches in hand) and whose coach Roger de Sa resigned three days ago.