Nigerian goalkeeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie, is getting what she really asked for and now seeing her career thriving.
Experiencing childhood in a group of young women and men – who had all taken a shot at going professional with their football – Nnadozie’s desire to follow her brothers accordingly, wasn’t welcomed with movable energy.
As per 22-year-old Chiamaka, it wasn’t so good from her family. They never let her play football, particularly her father.
“Whenever I went to play soccer, he would always tell me: ‘Girls don’t play football.
Look at me. I played football, I didn’t make it. Your brother, he played, he didn’t make. Your cousin played, he didn’t make it. So why do you want to choose this? Why don’t you want to go to school or maybe do some other things?’” Nnadozie recollected in an interview with CNN.
Despite the suspicious demeanor from her father, Chiamaka kept on playing football to satisfy her fantasy about playing for Nigeria. Her mom was instrumental in keeping that hope alive, frequently taking Nnadozie to her aunt’s home where she could play uninhibitedly with no disturbances.
It’s been a long, twisting road from a little semi-metropolitan town in Nigeria to the World Cup knockout stages. However, for Nnadozie, it’s a journey looked back on proudly.
The Nigerian goalkeeper rose to fame after becoming the youngest ever goalkeeper to keep a spotless sheet at a Women’s World Cup, harking back to the 2019. Just 19 years of age at the time, Nnadozie played three games in France, displaying confidence and authority on a level more commonly associated with seasoned professionals.
Initially, she was the second goalkeeper in the team at the 2019 tournament.
“During the second game, when the coach told me I would be playing, I was very scared because I was still very, very young. I was crying.
“Some of my teammates, they came to me and they were like: ‘Come on, you have to do this, we believe in you, God believes in you, so you have to believe in yourself.’”
Nigeria won the match 2-0, thus history was made with Nnadozie’s name scratched into the history books.
Today, Chiamaka flaunts an amazing accomplishments with both club and country.
In a World Cup group containing the hosts, Australia, and No. 7 in the FIFA world rankings, Canada, few would have envisaged Randy Waldrum’s Nigeria progressing past the group stage.
But, with the help of Nnadozie’s performances in goal, Nigeria finished second in the group, picking up two clean sheets along the way, before bowing out of the competition at the last 16 stage to European champion England.
In the group stage game against Canada, Nnadozie was met with a familiar face in Christine Sinclair whom she had played against two years prior. When Sinclair won a penalty early in the second half, the burden of a potential losing start to Nigeria’s World Cup campaign was left solely on the shoulders of Nnadozie.
“So in the last two years, we played against Canada and I made a mistake. There was a mistake from me and she scored. So during the World Cup, when she took the ball to take the penalty, I was like: ‘Not you again”.
In spite of underlying cynicism, Nnadozie got down well to her left, parrying Sinclair’s penalty to safety, and rescuing a crucial point for Nigeria, without which the Super Falcons may have proved the pre-tournament sceptics right.
She performed similar heroics for her club, Paris FC, in their Women’s Champions League qualifier in September against English side, Arsenal, saving spectacularly from Alessia Russo and Frida Manuum in a penalty shootout victory that booked the Parisians’ place in this year’s competition.
In the next round, Paris faced last year’s finalists, Wolfsburg, over two legs where Nnadozie once again provided the penalty-saving heroics, denying Wolfsburg’s Dominique Janssen in the second leg to help her side advance to the group stage of the Women’s Champions League with a famous victory.
Chiamaka says she is always not under pressure when she’s in posts. According to her, she is always calm, and understands herself more.
Nnadozie started out not in goal, but as an outfield player. It was only when, in 2012, she inadvertently found herself between the goalposts playing for her local team in Nigeria, that she decided to dabble in goalkeeping.
After pleading with her manager to replace her fatigued teammate in goal, such was the brilliance of her performance, that her coach’s response was simply: “If you want to be in this team, then you have to be a goalkeeper.”
In 2016, Nnadozie was asked to represent Nigeria at the Under-17s Women’s World Cup in Jordan. After that, her father finally came around.
“One time when we’re playing against England, my mom called out: ‘OK, do you know this person?’ And he was like: ‘Is this my daughter?’ My mom said: ‘Yeah, she’s playing for Nigeria now on the national TV.’ And he was so happy.
“When I came back, he hugged me, he was calling some friends: ‘Hey, my daughter is back!’” Nnadozie recalled, smiling.
The rise of Nnadozie has run in tandem with the rise of female goalkeepers globally. Perspectives are changing, and thanks to trailblazers like Nnadozie, England stopper Mary Earps, and Chile’s Christiane Endler.
“Mary Earps, she’s all over the world. She has won the Euros and she’s a very good goalkeeper. It’s the same with Endler. I’m happy I’m being mentioned among these people,” said Nnadozie.