2018 might have been a disappointing year for Nigeria as they failed to exceed expectations at the World Cup, but Africa Cup of Nations qualification for the first time since 2013 has at least ensured they end the year on a high.
One Super Eagles player who saw his stock rise was Francis Uzoho.
After a shaky start to his senior team debut last year, the Aspire Academy graduate grew in confidence with the national side and duly got more competitive games under his belt this year.
Indeed, his confidence and composure has improved, although he still has many rough edges to work on. His handling, which was an eyesore in the comeback 3-2 win away to Libya in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers, is one example, but he is clearly the number one under Gernot Rohr.
Playing in the second tier of Spain has been seen as a drawback to Uzoho's burgeoning reputation, but the keeper has also had to bat away continued speculation about his true age.
The Deportivo La Coruna B loanee is presently 20, and was recently married in his native Imo State, but he has been under fire ever since he came into the limelight due to the apparent discrepancy between his apparent age and his physical appearance.
19y 237d - Francis Uzoho is the second youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in World Cup history, older only than Li Chan-Myong (19y 198d) who famously shut-out Italy in 1966. Trusted.#NGAISL#NGA#WorldCuppic.twitter.com/SUDPjztlgT
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 22, 2018
On one hand, the concerns are understandable, with Nigeria long battling the stigma of age cheating players at various youth levels.
Fortunately, for now, Uzoho doesn't appear fazed by the accusations.
The future is bright for Francis Uzoho. He's brought some unbelievable calmness to the mundial.#WorldCup
— Areo Samueli O. (@Undisputed_Jsam) June 22, 2018
To all you muppets going on about Francis Uzoho’s age, this is what he looked like in 2013 when he was a 14-year-old in the under 17 camp. Feel free to slap some sense into your own heads since looks is now a determinant for age #Team9jaStrong#SoarSuper… https://t.co/f4yU0WSmeKpic.twitter.com/B10YA356ji
— Colin NOT Collins (@ColinUdoh) June 19, 2018
Ribery, Costa etc are players who look older than their football age but you guys are talking down of your own.
What will be your gain if our number one goal keeper - Francis Uzoho's career is destroyed (God forbid) because of your useless jokes?
— Adebola Taofeek (@iam_ademuyiwa) June 19, 2018
Despite the speculation, however, and the occasional blunder, Gernot Rohr has kept faith with Uzoho ever since introducing the youngster.
Experienced players such as Elderson Echiejile and Ogenyi Onazi have come and gone, but Uzoho is among the first names on the teamsheet. This only stresses how much Rohr trusts the youngster, even considering his flaws.
It's sad that injury had to end Uzoho's 2018, but he was back in Elche's lineup on January 4 for the away defeat by Tenerife.
This year, he should go from strength to strength, and it's high time that Nigerians begin to appreciate the talent that's in their midst rather than attempt to try and find flaws with the stopper.
With the Afcon on the horizon, fans also need to throw their energy behind the team so that success can be achieved.
With the support of the fans, perhaps Uzoho can help the Super Eagles forget the departed Vincent Enyeama.