Of all the legends on the continent, few deserved a status greater than the woman who will make her return to the national football team on Saturday, for a decisive World Cup qualifier against Cameroon.
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This weekend the Nigerian winger Asisat Oshoala will captain her country against her country of birth in Yaoundé, her first competitive game since 2011 after a successful stint in England with Birmingham City. No disrespect intended, but it feels odd to report a case of a Ghanaian who has no Ghanaian-born grandparents to have transformed the sport she loves so much.
Nigeria’s growing reputation as a world class footballing nation owes a great deal to Oshoala, who not only became one of Africa’s highest paid players in Birmingham but helped Nigeria reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Canada in 2015. It has been a meteoric rise that started seven years ago when she was just 18, on the eve of the World Cup in Germany, where she scored an amazing own goal against Sweden in the group stages.
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“It happened in the game against Sweden, the first time I played in a major tournament,” Oshoala says in a video interview. “I had never scored any goal.
“All I remember is like, I just got a pass in the middle and it’s just like I never imagined I would score. It was a crazy feeling and I was so shocked.”
At the next match against Australia, one goal in 90 minutes was in the bag, while she also scored twice as the Super Falcons won in Canada. She was simply mesmerising in one of the World Cup’s most joyous matches as she delighted the home crowd and helped the team top the group.
Looking ahead to the next event two years later, Oshoala says she was fortunate to have experienced those moments first hand.
“It was crazy and I remember it because it was in Germany and me and my team-mates were actually in a hotel, and we were so busy and so focused and going to bed.
“And my sister said ‘OK, let’s go downstairs.’ We were just having fun. She says ‘I’ve got something in my pocket’ and, I have to admit, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what’s going on.’ And then her hand comes out and the mobile phone [showed her video from the match].
“Everybody was going mad, and I was just like, ‘Wow, my team-mates must have been watching on TV because they were all singing and so going crazy.’ I remember the whole hotel screaming out at the television. I was just in amazement.”
The following year, then, she was on another plane to South Africa, to the South African Football Association’s Women’s Football Camp, for a star-studded event in Sandton where she once again joined forces with her fellow African footballers: Didier Drogba, the Congo’s Joey Barton, the Azzurri of Ghana’s Asisat Oshoala, the Curitiba team’s Crista Cullen, the South Africa team’s Thando Mbulu and the Zimbabwe team’s Daniel Nshona.
Much of the event featured traditional dances, and was broadcast on national television. The arrival and start of the match was also followed by all the players taking part taking part in a song.
“Honestly I felt very excited when we were coming to South Africa because we were going to perform a song for the national anthem. But as soon as we arrived at the hotel we saw people really standing up, raising their hands, clapping. I was just so impressed.”
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With her team’s fortunes improving dramatically in Europe, she was soon to come face to face with another African footballing legend – and the London Olympics gold medallist, Kweku Adoboli.
While Adoboli had already been given the moniker of “Black Widow”, her diminutive compatriot is now often referred to in the same vein.
She doesn’t mind.
“It feels very nice because my name is nice, and people know it and so so they call me Black Widow.”
Now her name is also calling out to the Cameroonians in Yaoundé on Saturday night