Two Nigerian goalkeepers did not kick a ball at Afcon 2021, but for the Enyimba shot-stopper, it was simply a miracle to even be in Cameroon
Defender Chidozie Awaziem, goalkeeper John Noble and Kaizer Chiefs’ gloveman Daniel Akpeyi were the only Super Eagles players who made zero appearances at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in January.
But Noble’s presence in Cameroon is the high point of a career that has seen more lows than highs.
Before August 2020 when Enyimba signed the shot-stopper on a three-year deal, he was an unknown quantity on the local scene.
Noble, though, was a hero in Togo. The Bori City-born footballer built his reputation, turning out for Toro Sports Academy, Kilsi United FC, Gokana United FC, Cynosure FC, and Kotoko FC in the Togo Premier Division before moving to ASC Kara.
It was with ASCK that he won the Togolese championship in 2018 and appeared in the 2018/19 CAF Confederation Cup, where he caught the attention of Enyimba scouts with his outstanding performances.
On his arrival in Nigeria, Noble was not even considered the best goalkeeper in Enyimba, much less the Nigeria Professional Football League.
But an injury to first-choice goalie Olorunleke Ojo handed Noble his chance, and he grabbed it with both hands, churning out one clean sheet after another as the Aba Elephants made a late, ultimately futile push for the 2021 league title.
The contest that, however, threw up Noble’s name to the consciousness of the national team handlers was the CAF Confederation Cup tie between Enyimba and Rivers United.
That closely fought continental qualifier proceeded to penalties after the aggregate score stood at 1-1 in the two-leg encounter. Noble emerged the hero, saving two spot-kicks before he scored in sudden death to power Enyimba to the group stage.
To Noble, saving a penalty is as simple as ABC.
“In my career, while playing for clubs, I have always been a good goalkeeper during penalty shootouts,” he told CKD Media.
“For instance, in our last Confederations Cup against Rivers United, I saved two penalties and scored one. Against an Algeria team away, I saved one to help my team. For me, I will say that is my personal best as a goalkeeper.”
And it did not surprise watchers of the local league when the Super Eagles technical crew handed him a maiden call-up ahead of the Afcon qualifiers against the Benin Republic and Lesotho.
And it could only get better for one who holds Vincent Enyeama, arguably Super Eagles’ finest ever goalkeeper, as his role model.
It then became the stuff of dreams as Noble was named among the four goalkeepers in Nigeria’s 28-man list to the Afcon.
With Sparta Rotterdam’s Maduka Okoye designated as the first-choice and Francis Uzoho holding fort as second-choice, Noble failed to make his Super Eagles’ debut in Cameroon.
But as the only NPFL-based star in the Afcon Super Eagles, Noble would have been pleased with taking another step closer to his dream.