Nigeria's Asisat Oshoala leads by example

Sporting a pair of sunglasses, Asisat Oshoala celebrated Barcelona's UEFA Champions League triumph with her teammates in early June, but Nigeria was already on her mind.

Standing on the balcony of the historic palace in Placa de Sant Jaume in the city's Gothic neighborhood before several thousand jubilant fans, Oshoala was handed the microphone.

"Visca Barca and Visca Nigeria," the 28-year-old forward said, swapping in her homeland for "Catalunya," as the refrain usually goes.

Ruled out with a hamstring injury, Oshoala could not play any part in Barcelona's rollercoaster 3-2 win over Wolfsburg that saw it clinch its second Champions League trophy.

However, she will be back to compete at the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Nigeria is the only African team to feature in every edition of the tournament since it began in 1991, but the Super Falcons have never made it beyond the quarterfinals.

If that is to change, a lot will depend on Oshoala, five-time African women's player of the year.

"When you have Oshoala, you have a chance against any team," said Nigeria's American coach Randy Waldrum, whose team must first negotiate a difficult group featuring Australia, Olympic gold medalist Canada and Ireland. "She puts a lot of pressure on herself because she loves Nigeria and she wants Nigeria to be successful on the world stage."

Oshoala defied her parents as a youngster, choosing to drop out of school and focus on playing soccer full-time.

It paid off spectacularly.

In 2014, she was made a Member of the Order of the Niger by the country's then-president Goodluck Jonathan, a title which she proudly carries in her name on her social media accounts.

Barely out of her teenage years, Liverpool signed her in 2015 and she became the first African to play in the English Women's Super League.

"We beat a number of top American and European clubs to Asisat's signature," said Liverpool coach Matt Beard. "Asisat is one of the best young players in the world."

In 2016. Oshoala signed for Arsenal after it paid her release clause of an undisclosed amount.

Oshoala won the FA Cup at Wembley with the Gunners that year but then moved to Chinese team Dalian Quanjian.

She admitted she was paid more than 10 times as much as she earned at Arsenal, but also said she felt she could rebuild her confidence there, describing the move to China as a "blessing."

Barcelona loaned her from Dalian in 2019 and after eight goals in 11 games a permanent switch quickly materialized.

Oshoala became the first African woman to win the Spanish top flight's leading goalscorer trophy and in August 2022 also became the first to be nominated for the Ballon d'Or.

With Barcelona, she has won three league titles and two women's Champions Leagues. Now, she is aiming to follow that up with World Cup glory.

Oshoala has a foundation back home in Nigeria that helps young girls to play soccer, after the trouble she had starting out and getting her parents to support her dream.

Success in Australia and New Zealand would be another way for Oshoala to lead by example.


© Agence France-Presse

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