For a player with more than 100 Bundesliga goals, Nigerian Jonathan Akpoborie has been a Rather elusive figure on the international circuit.
But recently, the experience and consistency of the 32-year-old Wolfsburg forward has persuaded his national coach, Jo Bonfrere, to give him an extended run in the side.
Akpoborie, struggling with fitness, was included in Nigeria’s 22-man squad for last year’s Nations Cup finals, but Bonfrere preferred to select the younger Julius Aghahowa and Benedict Akwuegbu as his forwards.
Akpoborie did not appear either at the 1992 Nations Cup in Senegal, when he was a reserve to Rashidi Yekini and Finidi George.
In fact, he did not win his first cap until 1995, despite having been part of Nigeria’s victorious squad at the first World Under-16 Championship, in China in 1985, and appearing at the World Under-20 Championship four years later in Chile.
These credentials earned Akpoborie a scholarship to play college soccer in the United States, but he spent just a year there before travelling to Germany.
Following brief spells at two Second Division clubs, his 37 goals for regional league (Third Division) side Stuttgart Kickers in 1994-95 earned him a transfer to Waldhof Mannheim. From there he joined Hansa Rostock, hitting 20 goals in two seasons, before moving on again, this time to high-profile VfB Stuttgart.
By this time, Nigeria had given the forward an occasional game, the then coach Philippe Troussier picking him for several key matches in the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, his successor, Bora Milutinovic, didnot include him in his finals squad.
During the 1997-98 season with Stuttgart, Akpoborie scored 10 League goals and a further seven in the Cup-winners Cup. However, he couldn’t get an all-important one in the Final as the German club lost 1-0 to Chelsea in Stockholm. A season later he switched to Wolfsburg, sincewhen he has continued to feature among the Bundesliga’s most consistent scorers.
Nigeria, it seems, are slowly beginning to recognise Akpoborie’s worth and have played him in four of their first five World Cup qualifiers. He scored against Eritrea last April and when Nigeria beat Sudan in January.
With Japan and South Korea just a year away now, Akpoborie must believe he will finally get a chance to figure on the biggest stage of them all.
By Mark Gleeson
Club Wolfsburg (Ger)
Born October 20, 1968, in Lagos
Previous clubs Julius Berger, FC Saarbrucken (Ger), Carl Zeiss Jena (Ger), Stuttgart Kickers (Ger), Waldhof Mannheim (Ger), Hansa Rostock (Ger), VfB Stuttgart (Ger)
International debut June1995, v Colombia
International caps 12 (4 goals)
Honours World Under-16 Championship 1985