Super Eagles goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi still feels the impact and sacrifices his mother made towards the success of his football career.
Akpeyi kept five out of seven matches for the Super Eagles at the recently concluded Egypt 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), emerging victorious in four and losing one.
Before the team departed Cairo for Abuja after beating Tunisia in their third-place match, Akpeyi took time to reflect on his past, particularly the death of his mother who sacrificed so much for his football career to flourish.
“It pains me so much that my mother is no longer alive to see me in full colours of the Super Eagles,” Akpeyi told The Guardian at the team’s Le Meridian hotel in Cairo. “She made it possible for me to become the footballer I am today.”
Akpeyi’s journey into the national team started at the U-20 World Cup in 2005 under Coach Samson Siasia. He, alongside goalkeeper Ambrose Vanzekin, made the trip to The Netherlands, where Nigeria lost to Argentina 2-1 in the final.
He was also part of Siasia’s squad to the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games, which also got to the finals and lost to Argentina. Those were his days in the junior team.
Akpeyi, who currently plies his soccer trade with Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa, fought his way into the senior national team during the era of late Stephen Keshi. He was part of the Super Eagles team to the camp in Faro, Portugal in preparation for the South Africa 2013 African Nations Cup.
Painfully for the young lad, his name was dropped from the final list on the eve of the tournament.
The impact of Akpeyi’s last-minute removal from the squad to the Rainbow Nation was felt by virtually all members of his family, particularly his mother. Some of his friends also cried foul, accusing Keshi of trying to frustrate Akpeyi’s football career.
The Guardian recalls how Akpeyi’s mother felt after her son was dropped from the squad to South Africa 2013. The mother, Mrs. Caroline Aimakhu Akpeyi, an Esan speaking tribe from Iruwa, Edo State, was residing at Jakande Estate in Ikorodu area of Lagos at that time.
In a chat with The Guardian then, the woman narrated how she fasted for days, crying to God to intervene in her son’s football career. “I find it difficult to eat and sleep whenever I see the team play on television. I don’t really know who is working against Daniel’s football career, but I believe God will come to his rescue,” she said.
With a feeling of nostalgia, Akpeyi said: “My mother was a prayer warrior, and she laid the foundation for my football career, Akpeyi recalled emotionally, using his right hand to wipe away tears from his face. “I remember how my mother stood her ground when my father wanted to stop me from playing football at an early stage. She insisted on several occasions arguing with my dad to allow me to choose a career for myself. It is really unfortunate my mum couldn’t wait to reap from my football career.
Some months after the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup title in South Africa in 2013, Akpeyi’s mother died, probably from the effects of the shock she received when her son was removed from the team on the eve of the tournament.
“We tried everything humanly possible to save her, but she left us at a time we needed her most. I didn’t get to know of her condition early because my brothers and sisters did not want her sickness to distract my football career. Each time I called, they will say mama is fine. I became curious. When I got to know of her situation, we took her to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), where she spent some months before she gave up,” he stated.
While the mother hailed from Iruwa in Edo State, his father, Mr. Diamond Akpeyi is of the Itsekiri tribe from the popular Ode Itsekiri in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
At Egypt 2019 AFCON, Akpeyi was in action in the first game against Burundi, and the team triumphed 1-0 in Alexandria with China-based Odion Ighalo accounting for the goal. Akpeyi also had a clean sheet in the second group match against the Syli Nationale of Guinea, which saw the Super Eagles picking the ticket to the Round of 16 with a game in hand.
After being rested in the last group match against debutants, Madagascar, which Nigeria lost 0-2, Akpeyi returned to action in the round of 16 match against the defending champions, Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, leading Nigeria to a 3-2 victory to hit the quarterfinal. He was also called to duty in the cracker against a resilient Bafana Bafana of South Africa, and the Super Eagles won 2-1 to hit the semifinal stage of the competition.
The former Warri Wolves goalkeeper was, however, unlucky to concede a dying minute goal in the semifinal against the Desert Foxes of Algeria, which ended 2-1 for the North Africans.
He was rested in the third-place match against Tunisia, which the Super Eagles won 1-0.
After being dropped on the eve of South Africa 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa, Akpeyi was invited yet again to the Super Eagles in 2014, this time he had a superlative performance in the match against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.
That opened the doors for his contract with Chippa United Football Club in South Africa in 2015.
Akpeyi began his career with Gabros International FC and was promoted to the first team in 2005. He moved to Nasarawa United FC in January 2007. He was a starter for both clubs.
In 2010, Akpeyi shifted his base to Owerri, where he joined Hartland FC for their CAF Champions League campaign and was again first-choice. In February 2014, it was announced that he had left Heartland to join league rivals, Warri Wolves, but a few days later, Heartland denied the move by an official statement, stating that they had no intention to sell their first-choice goalkeeper.
In the following month, however, the deal was confirmed again and Akpeyi joined the Seasiders (Warri Wolves).
He signed a two-year deal with Chippa in 2015, a club he served for four years before pitching his tent with Kaizer Chiefs, another South African club earlier this year.
The 2-1 victory by the Super Eagles against the Bafana Bafana in the quarterfinal in Cairo may have erased the memories of the 0-2 defeat, which Nigeria suffered in the hands of the South Africans in the first leg of the 2019 AFCON qualifier in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Akpeyi was in goal for the Super Eagles in 2017, when the South Africans won.
Akpeyi left Lagos to his base in South Africa last week with a promise to help his club, Kaizer Chiefs to a glorious outing in the South Africa Football league.
Before his departure, the Super Eagles goalkeeper lashed out at football fans calling for Coach Gernot Rohr’s sack, saying those criticising the Franco-German don’t mean well for the nation’s football.
Akpeyi said it was disturbing that some Nigerians would call for the head of Gernot Rohr despite his good records with the Eagles since he assumed duty in 2017. He asked: “Calling for Rohr’s sack, who do you think will be the messiah that other groups will not also call for his sack? Even those who have won trophies for Nigeria at a point had some other groups calling for their sack. Nobody will be good enough for Nigeria until we come together and stand for one interest.
“Generally, every sector in Nigeria is a race for personal interest and when you win, enjoy it for the time until another party reinforces and comes back for a fight. Your records don’t count for many Nigerians,” Akpeyi stated.