Nigeria’s star goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie desires of Olympic glory in Paris | EUROtoday

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Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, voted Africa’s finest goalkeeper in 2023, has additionally been a key participant for Paris Football Club (Paris FC) since 2020, serving to the staff to a transparent victory (3-0) over Montpellier final weekend. Her Super Falcons, Nigeria’s nationwide girls’s soccer staff, face South Africa on April 4 and 9 as they vie for a spot in Paris. In the run-up to her adopted metropolis’s Olympic Games, “Maka” is staying robust in her perception that nothing occurs by likelihood.

On July 25, the eve of the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Chiamaka Nnadozie hopes to take to the sphere along with her staff in opposition to Brazil to kick off her first Olympics. Before that, the 25-year-old goalkeeper should assist the Super Falcons overcome the final African impediment of their path: South Africa, whom Nigeria should beat in a double-header on April 4 and 9.

“South Africa have a very, very good team. I think one of their strengths is keeping the ball. They don’t believe in physical football at all. They’re good tactically, technically. I think we will try to work on that to see how we can stop them,” she says with a confident smile.

“It’s meant to be,” she adds. France has had a special importance for the Nigerian goalkeeper throughout her career.

‘The connection is just there’

Nnadozie first captured attention at FIFA’s 2018 Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France, where her performance earned her a call-up to the senior squad for the Africa Cup of Nations that same year. She was the Super Falcons’ goalkeeper for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, also held in France.

There, the 1.80-metre-tall goalkeeper came up against Les Bleues in the group phase, persistently stymying the French forwards before finally being forced to concede defeat on a disputed penalty. But it didn’t matter: Nnadozie had caught the eye of the footballing world.

So much so, in fact, that her club future was sealed when Paris FC signed her in January 2020. Initially seen as third in their goalkeeping hierarchy, Nnadozie quickly established herself as the first-choice keeper and became a fixture at the club’s training centre in Orly, a southern suburb of Paris.

“It was so, so terrifying ­[to leave home]. Because I’m the last child of my parents and I have a very, very good relationship with my mom. She’s like my best friend,” she recalls with emotion.

“But you know, at this point in life, you need to work for yourself. You need to hustle to make a living.”

Life in France was a bit difficult at first. “At first I didn’t like it because it was cold.  But with time … I’m used to it now. Now, apart from the language barrier, I’m very happy here … I need to learn French,” she says with amusing.

“I think I’m a Parisian because I play for Paris, see? And it’s in my blood, and I love it … The connection is just there,” she provides.

And she hopes to be right here for the Olympics, even when the street is an extended one. If the Super Falcons recover from the hurdle offered by South Africa, they’re going to have to achieve the quarterfinals, and even the ultimate, earlier than they will play in Paris.

An extraordinary 2023

The 12 months 2023 was wealthy in emotion for the participant often known as “Maka” by her teammates and followers. In March, she formally prolonged her collaboration with Paris FC till June 2025.

In the summer time FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Nnadozie as soon as once more shone on the world stage. Nigeria got here inside a whisker of eliminating England, the eventual finalists, within the Round of 16 (beating England 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw). In the group section, she saved a penalty to grab a draw in opposition to reigning Olympic champions Canada.

Nnadozie additionally contributed to her staff’s success on the membership degree final 12 months. In September, she helped her facet to a shock victory over Arsenal and Wolfsburg, giving the Parisian membership their first-ever look within the Champions League finals.

So when the Confederation of African Football added a CAF Award for one of the best African goalkeeper of the 12 months, the selection was clear. On December 11 in Marrakech, Nnadozie received the distinguished particular person award at a ceremony the place Nigeria ended up with a veritable haul: Victor Osimhen was voted finest African participant of the 12 months and Asisat Oshoala received finest feminine participant of the 12 months.

Chiamaka Nnadozie with her trophy for best goalkeeper in Africa at the 2023 CAF Awards.
Chiamaka Nnadozie along with her trophy for finest goalkeeper in Africa on the 2023 CAF Awards. © AFP

“It was incredible. It was a real incentive for me to keep working hard. I now know that the whole world is watching me,” she says. “In Africa, there’s a lot of talent, particularly in Nigeria. So I think that in the next 10 or 20 years, Nigeria wouldn’t lack any good teams in all the categories. So I’m really happy and proud to be part of this project and I’m happy to be Nigerian.”

The dream of a lifetime

Nnadozie, a local of Orlu in southern Nigeria, confronted an uphill battle originally. “In the beginning, my dad was mad at me. ‘Hey, what are you doing? Girls don’t play football,’” Nnadozie remembers him saying.

“Everything changed for him when he saw me playing with the national team. Now he’s my No. 1 supporter and encourages girls to take up soccer.”

She grew up in an setting steeped within the sport: “Nobody was a professional, but my father played, my brothers played and even my older sister played.”

While Nnadozie had typically imagined changing into an accountant, her dad and mom could not afford to ship her to highschool. “I saw girls playing football and making a living from it. I had a bit of talent, so I told myself I’d give it until I was 20 to see if I could break through.”

While she beloved taking part in on the pitch, it was as goalkeeper that she set herself aside. She discovered herself between the objective posts after her staff’s goalkeeper was injured. Her coach noticed her immense potential proper from the warm-up and gave her an ultimatum: turn out to be a goalkeeper – or go away the staff.

“I wanted to play in the field. I refused and went to another academy, but they asked me for money to play. So I had no choice but to come back and become a goalkeeper. And today, I just want to thank Coach Alex for seeing that in me,” she says.

“Sometimes, what’s meant to be is meant to be.”

The rest unfolded like a fairytale. She was spotted at the age of 16 by the Rivers Angels FC, based in the Nigerian state of Rivers, at a scouting tournament for which she won the title of best goalkeeper. The coach and president approached her and offered her a contract.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she recalls.

Paris and the Olympic dream

Eight years on, Nnadozie is hungry for more – and she isn’t afraid to dream big.

“I want to win the Women’s Champions League with Paris FC and I want us to win the championship. I want to win the World Cup with my country,” she says.

“The Olympics is also an experience I want to have. It’s very special.”

A Nigerian staff hasn’t performed within the Olympics because the 2008 Games in Beijing – which Nnadozie does not keep in mind watching. In the present squad, solely the skilled 36-year-old Tochukwu Oluehi, additionally a goalkeeper, has performed on the Olympic degree.

And Oluehi is passing on her aspirations to these following in her footsteps.

“I love how she talks to us about it, the advice she gives us and how insistent she is in telling us that it’s important to qualify for the Games. We’re a new generation. We have a lot of talented young players. We have ambition and a great state of mind. We can do it,” Nnadozie says.

She hopes the Super Falcons will be capable to emulate the triumph of the Super Eagles, the Nigerian males’s staff, who in 1996 grew to become Africa’s first Olympic champions by successful gold. If Nnadozie’s enthusiasm and confidence are any indication, Nigeria could even be able to problem the US or Canadian groups which have dominated girls’s soccer in recent times.

This has been translated from the unique in French.