Who is Chiamaka Nnadozie?
Background photo: S. Plaine, CC-BY-SA 4.0
The occasion was a 2019 Women’s World Cup match involving Nigeria and South Korea. Minute 17, the Koreans break quickly after a brilliant interchange of passes in midfield. Rita Chikwelu, the Nigerian midfield bulldozer, is left for dead as the Asians race through the byline and into the penalty area. The ball gets to forward Lee Geum-min, who sees an opening before taking a shot. It doesn't worry Chiamaka Nnadozie in the slightest. The Super Falcons' keeper adjusts her body to make a comfortable save.
Nnadozie went on to keep a clean sheet. It ensured Nigeria a 2-0 victory. At only 18, she had made history on her World Cup debut. No younger shot-stopper has ever managed a shutout on the biggest stage.
For ardent followers of the Super Falcons, it was glaring there was a lacuna in goal during their opening group game against Norway. The African Champions got soundly beaten 3-0. Nigeria’s first choice keeper, Tochukwu Oluehi didn’t inspire much confidence. It forced the coach's hand. Thomas Dennerby turned to Nnadozie, offering her an opportunity to seize the moment. The youngster accepted the challenge enthusiastically.
Another defining moment for Nnadozie came three days ago, in the final group game against France. With a fully-packed Roazhon Park the setting, she dared to defy the deafening home crowd. Les Bleues' scary firepower had little in way of an answer.
Nnadozie went 78 minutes without conceding. Heartbreak was just around the corner, though. Her efforts in forcing Wendie Renard to miss a penalty proved futile. VAR caught she'd stepped off her line early. The Referee demanded a retake. The teenager's forgivable mistake was duly punished.
Following that 1-0 defeat, Nigeria's place in the World Cup last 16 is uncertain. Whatever their outcome, Nnadozie has proven herself legendary during this tournament.
The Rivers Angel
Nnadozie is no stranger to playing in France. She was on hand to help Nigeria reach the knockout stage of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last year. The towering net-minder picked up the player of the match in the second group game against Haiti, in which she kept a clean sheet.
Nnadozie plays her club football for Rivers Angels. She's been at the Port Harcourt-based outfit since 2016. Her CV includes a hat-trick of league titles in that year. The South-South team has failed to lay their hands on one since, although they did lift the NWFL Champions Shield in 2018.
Nnadozie played understudy to Tochukwu Oluehi for the better part of three years, both for club and country. The status quo was expected to continue in France. Tables have turned and Oluehi now finds herself peering helplessly at Nnadozie’s spotlight.
Nigeria's World Cup isn't yet over. If results go their way, the Super Falcons will make it into the knockout stage as one of the top-four third-placed teams. For that to happen, either Cameroon or Chile must fail to pick up a convincing win.
Goal difference could come into play, too. Nnadozie and her colleagues' success at limiting the damage to France, a side which scored 21 goals in their last seven games prior to this tournament, could prove crucial in that regard. The Super Falcons must now wait and hope.
If this is to be the end, Nnadozie can feel proud. She's made her strong statement. She’s sold her stock to the world. The teen's publicity has been given wings, both due to her recent performance and by the controversial penalty decision against France.
High-flying European suitors should line up.