Daniel Akpeyi must shut out criticism if he's to reach the World Cup

Daniel Akpeyi of Nigeria EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

What must have been going through Daniel Akpeyi's mind as he watched Ever Banega's superbly curled free kick sail past him and nestle inside the net for Argentina's first goal in last week's friendly in Krasnodar?

It was just punishment for a basic horror error from the keeper, as he picked up the ball after dropping it outside his box.

He was fortunate to have escaped a red card for the offence, but was caught wrong-footed by Banega's fine free kick.

In typical Nigerian fashion, some comments on Twitter suggested wryly that perhaps his town folk were after him, or that he had offended some local deity in his village.

You could forgive Akpeyi for also questioning whether the gods were conspiring against him when he knelt down contemplating the error that had gifted the Argentines not just the free kick, but the goal.

Thankfully, that was as bad as it got against the Argentines, as the goalkeeper recovered to make two excellent stops not long after.

By then, though, it was too late.

He was already trending on Twitter in Nigeria, with his errors overshadowing his sterling later work.

In his post-game explanation, the Chippa United goalkeeper admitted his error, but claimed he had seen the assistant referee's flag go up and assumed that the play was stopped for offside.

Akpeyi's case was not helped when young Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Francis Uzoho came on as scheduled in the second half and gave the kind of nerve-calming performance that only served to highlight the elder goalie's flaws.

In the days since, there have been calls for Gernot Rohr to drop Akpeyi and look elsewhere for a third keeper for the World Cup.

Uzoho, after just 45 minutes of international football, has been crowned by some as number one. Ikechukwu Ezenwa gets a pass, but Akpeyi supposedly has a battle to be in the 23.

This is the moment that the South Africa-based stopper must step up and show how badly he wants to go to Russia.

With players having returned to club action this weekend, the noise will die down until the next squad call up in March when, if he is included, his misdemeanour against La Albiceleste will be brought back to the fore.

If he is to remain in the running for Russia, Akpeyi has to exorcise whatever demons he has inside of him, and focus on playing football to the best of his ability.

If he allows himself to be distracted by thoughts of what people will think of him or the abuse he is getting, distraction will set in.

What he needs to do is to shut it all out, use it as motivation to be the best goalkeeper he can be, and force Gernot Rohr to include him in that 23-man squad.

The example of Vincent Enyeama could inspire Akpeyi to thrive in face of the criticism.

In 2003, Nigeria champions Enyimba travelled to Egypt flying high following a 3-0 opening day victory over Tanzania's Simba.

The team were solid, had Nigeria World Cup goalie Vincent Enyeama in goal and boasted a posse of battle-tested outfield players.

A win was expected, a draw would have been accepted and a slim loss would have been tolerated.

Unfortunately for Enyeama, Enyimba were pulverised 6-1, with the goalkeeper taking the brunt of the blame for the defeat.

For months, it followed him around like a bad smell, even though Enyimba recovered to beat Ismaily 4-2 in the reverse fixture en route to winning Nigeria's first CAF Champions League title.

However, Enyeama refused to be dragged down by the constant battering he took in the media and among the fans, and developed a thick skin, one he has apparently carried to today.

That attitude made him the legendary goalkeeper he has become.

It is an attitude Akpeyi needs to embrace.

He was already recognised as one of the top keepers in the Nigerian domestic league before he went to South Africa, playing for Nigeria at various youth levels.

There's no reason why he can't iron out those gaffes, improve on his strengths and demonstrate that he deserves consideration among Nigeria's top three goalkeepers...particularly if Enyeama isn't coming out of retirement.

If Akpeyi wants to banish the bad memories of the Argentina game and reaffirm the quality he showed earlier in his career, then he must shut out his critics and do his talking on the pitch.