Asisat Oshoala… World Cup Jinx On Her Mind
She is just 20, but Super Falcons and Liverpool Ladies FC forward, Asisat Oshoala, has become one of the most decorated African woman footballers, even more than some of her older colleagues. Oshoala, who is in Canada for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, was named the BBC Women’s Player of the Year two weeks ago, beating Spain’s Veronica Boquete, Germany’s Nadine Kessler, Scotland’s Kim Little and Brazil’s magic woman, Marta, to the coveted award. On Monday, she will lead Super Falcons’ attack against Sweden in their opening group game in the city of Winnipeg. In this report, GOWON AKPODONOR, who is on his way to the team’s camp in Canada, recalls an encounter with Oshoala in Windhoek, Namibia, after Nigeria won the last AWC title, where she declared that her major target in Canada is to help the team break the 16-year-old jinx, a quarterfinal appearance, at USA ’99 World Cup.
Before her emergence as the BBC Women’s Player of the Year, Asisat Oshoala had cleared all available awards even before she graduated to the senior team last year. The former Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt forward was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the last FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada, where she was also the Top Scorer with seven goals.
At the senior level, Oshoala emerged the MVP at the 2014 African Women Championship (AWC) in Namibia, as Nigeria won her seventh title, and also finished as the second best scorer with four goals, to compatriot, Desire Oparanozie’s five.
In an interview with The Guardian after helping the Falcons to win the AWC and grabbing a ticket to the World Cup in Namibia last year, Oshoala declared that the major task ahead of the team was how to break the 16-year-old jinx in Canada.
“I am glad that I started my career at the senior level with a gold. There is a major task ahead of us and my prayer is that we should be able to surpass the USA ’99 mark at the end of Canada 2015 World Cup. That record of quarterfinal had stood for too long, and I will be so happy to be part of the team that will break that jinx in Canada,” she said.
On return from Namibia, Oshoala clinched the Glo-CAF African Women Footballer of the Year award to join the elite class of legendary striker, Mercy Akide-Udoh, who won the maiden African Footballer of the Year in 2001, Perpetua Nkwocha, who was crowned a record four times in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011 and Cynthia Uwak, who picked it twice in 2006 and 2007.
But Oshoala seems to have more worries ahead. Her attention seems to be fixed on one major achievement, which is, to help the Super Falcons break a 16-year-old jinx in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
The Falcons have participated in every edition of the World Cup from the inaugural championship in China ’91, through Sweden ’95, USA ’99, USA 2003, China 2007 and Germany 2011. But their best has not been good enough, as Nigeria could not secure passage to the semifinal of the competition, not to talk of featuring in the final.
Falcons’ best effort at the FIFA World Cup was reaching the second round at USA ’99, where Nigeria lost the semifinal ticket to Brazil. That was 16 years ago and since then, the Super Falcons and indeed, other African teams have not gotten near the quarterfinal stage in the championship.
In fact, it took the Super Falcons 12 years before they could secure victory in the World Cup, a 1-0 win against Canada at the last edition in Germany 2011.
Next week, the Super Falcons and two other African teams, the Lioness of Cameroun and Les Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire will fly Africa’s flag in Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and all eyes will be on golden girl, Oshoala, to prove her mantle.
She signed for Liverpool Ladies in January 2015, becoming the first African to feature in the Women’s Super League, with manager Matt Beard calling her “one of the world’s top young footballers”.
After winning the BBC Women Footballer of the Year award during the week, Oshoala said: “It’s a really good thing for us as a team because we now know that we have something great and now we want to go at the trophy,” she said. “We can do it, we did it in 2014 we can also do it this year as well.
“There is going to be a lot of motivation for women’s football in Nigeria now due to this award because there are a lot of fans out there. Support for women’s football in Nigeria is now growing very high,” she said.
This is the first time Canada is hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the third in North America.
Eight teams are making first appearance in this year’s edition, as FIFA extended the number from 16 in 2011 to 24. All previous Women’s World Cup finalists qualified for this tournament, with the likes of Germany, Japan and the USA tipped as pre-tournament favorites.
For the first time, the tournament will use the Hawk-Eye system as goal-line technology and will also be the first Women’s World Cup to be played on artificial turf.
Players had expressed concerns over potential injuries from the artificial turf, but a legal case asking for matches to be moved was dropped in January this year.