Nigeria’s keeper Nnadozie shining at World Cup as team eyes knockouts

SYDNEY — When Nigeria’s goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie left for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, everyone at her club, Paris FC, wished her well. But deep down, the feeling was a little bit different. As a staff member put it to ESPN, the biggest fear her peers had was that she would shine so much that a bigger club would come in after the tournament and tempt her away from Paris, even though she signed a new deal in April tying her to the club until June 2025.

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“She is so talented,” Sandrine Soubeyrand, the French legend and head coach at Paris FC, told ESPN. “She is one of the main reasons why we finished third in the league last season and qualified for the Champions League. She kept clean sheets [eight through the campaign], she made crucial saves in key matches. She was outstanding for us and so consistent as well.”

The coach still remembers her keeper’s incredible performance in the second half against Lyon a couple of years ago. “She is one of the best keepers in the world already at her age,” Soubeyrand adds about the 22-year-old.

It looks like Paris FC’s biggest fears are happening in this World Cup. Nnadozie was fantastic and decisive in Nigeria’s 0-0 draw against Canada when she made three saves, including a Christine Sinclair penalty. She did even better in the 3-2 win vs. Australia, despite conceding two goals. Nnadozie made six saves, including a couple of stunning ones.

The Nigeria captain is having a huge impact on the Super Falcons, who are the surprise package of the tournament so far. But World Cup heroics aren’t new for Nnadozie. Four years ago in France she impressed, especially against the hosts in the group stage when she was sensational until France striker Wendie Renard put a penalty past her late in the game. That’s when Nnadozie convinced Paris FC to sign her.

Six months later, they recruited her from River Angels, her club in Port Harcourt, in the south of Nigeria, not too far from Orlu, where she was born and grew up. “I come from a family of boys [she has three brothers] so I have always played football with them in the streets. Because I was not great in the field, I was put in goal when I was 12 and I loved it,” she explained before the tournament.

Despite her great success so far in her career, things have not always been easy. “When I started playing football, my dad told me: ‘No, football is not for girls.’ But when he saw me playing for Nigeria at the 2019 World Cup, he shouted: ‘Oh my God, this is my daughter!'” she recalled with a smile.

Her father’s original disapproval was the motivation she needed. “I remember so well the day he said that. I will never forget it. I was sad and angry. I begged him but he was cross. For him, I had to focus on school and on my education and forget about football. It pushed me to work harder to show him I could succeed and to prove him wrong,” she said. Her brothers and her mum were on her side, though, and helped her a lot.

Her big smile, positive mindset and shining personality, as well as her ambition and determination, have made her a hit in Paris, where she feels at home even if she misses Nigeria. She has adapted well to France. “She has incredible mental strength. She always gives 100% while enjoying every moment of her career. It is a privilege to coach someone like her,” Soubeyrand said.

France international midfielder Clara Mateo, Nnadozie’s friend and teammate at club level, has been dreaming of facing her at some point during this World Cup and right now, it could actually happen in the quarterfinal if both France and Nigeria top their group and win their last-16 tie. Mateo wouldn’t need to give tips to Les Bleues. All of them know by now Nnadozie’s qualities, not least because of her performances in the French top flight.

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