As women's sports continue to increasingly grow in stature around the world, Africa has not been left behind. Over the years, the continent has produced some of the best female athletes in a variety of genres.
They deserve to be celebrated which is why, over the coming weeks, we’ll be running a series - Five African Sports Women Who’ve Conquered The World. We’ll look at their background, career progression, achievements fused with snippets of my own observations through watching them. Let’s salute and celebrate the women who’ve continuously made mama (mother) Africa proud.
First in this series: Nigeria’s Asisat Lamina Oshoala
I first watched Asisat Oshoala, the continent’s most decorated female footballer, play in 2014. It was in the U-20 Women’s World Cup hosted in Canada, a game I chanced upon on Kenya’s national broadcaster - Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). The opponent was Germany and this was the final. I latched onto the dying minutes of regular time and watched in awe the entire 30 minutes of extra time.
Nigeria was good and Oshoala was their standout performer. The Germans went on to clinch a third title and for a second time, the West Africans missed the ultimate prize.
On the final whistle, twin awards - the golden ball (awarded to the best player of the tournament) and the golden boot (awarded to the player with the most goals in the tourney) were all captured by one player - Asisat Oshoala.You wouldn’t tell that her football story began without the support of her kin. Back in Ikorodu, Nigeria she never imagined that she would ever live to play professional football. You see in Africa, as were most parts of the world, football let alone sports was never domain girls were encouraged to be in. With this in mind, she decided to settle into playing just for the fun of it, with no hopes and ambition of turning pro.
This would change. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.
Back in her neighbourhood in Lagos, Oshoala decided to represent a local team she wasn’t part of in a tournament. The result, a deal with Robo FC, a women’s premier league side in the same state. This would be her first of many clubs. Her performances were convincing enough to earn her a national team call up, the first in 2013 then 2014 and into the U-20 Women’s World Cup the same year.
From Nigeria To The World
The world took notice of her world cup performances and her sojourn into foreign lands began. In 2015, Liverpool Women who had just won back-to-back Women’s Super League titles in England landed her signature. A year later, she took her talent to North London’s Arsenal before she moved to the Far East after underwhelming stints in England. The destination this time was China and the club Dalian Quanjian. Here, she did what only Oshoala does best, score goals. 23 in total in her two-year stay (2017 -2019). She made her name reverberate across the globe albeit playing in the unpopular Chinese Women’s League.It didn’t take long before a bigger club with more prominence and a prestigious name snubbed her. The year was 2019, the country Spain, region Catalonia and the club, you guessed it - Barcelona. In the red, blue and maroon of Barca’s colours, Oshoala has only gone to confirm what she already proved. Her a nark for scoring.
It’s also here that the Nigerian has gone on to break two records. In 2019, she became the first African female footballer to score in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final, a match they lost to Lyon 4-1. Two years on, Barcelona won its first ever Champions League trophy and Asisat became the first African female footballer to win the competition.
She was a second-half substitute in Gothenburg, Sweden. At the time of her introduction, the tie was already beyond opponents Chelsea Women. It only took 35 minutes of perfection and ruthlessness into the first half, and Barca ran 4-0 nil up. Oshoala, who could have scored at least two goals, was sent on to deepen Chelsea’s woes. She did. Her destructive pace was a thorn in the already obliterated Chelsea’s defence. Barring a miss-hit and an offside flag, she would have bagged her second or even third final goal.
It now feels like an eternity since her first award at a major tournament. Oshoala’s trophy cabinet must be overflowing with both club and international accolades. The list is long so bear with me.
Record four times African player of the year, BBC Women’s footballer of the year 2015, golden boots, golden balls, Africa Women’s Cup of Nations champion, FA Cup winner, Chinese League champion and every Spanish domestic trophy - league, Copa de la Reina, Women’s Super Cup. What has she not won?
What has she actually not won? The world cup. It wouldn’t be pessimistic of me to say that she and her Nigerian team are far away from winning this. Just facts. History wouldn’t judge her harshly on this. It’s almost beyond them as the administration is just as important as the players' output. The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has fallen short numerous times and is mostly out of choice. Ever heard of the quote “If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail”? Yeah!
Disappointment is part of the game and the bitter pill in life. Injuries coupled with a lack of first-team football (at Arsenal, Liverpool and now at Barcelona) have stained her path but never dwarfed her career. Just like she overcame her first barrier into football, she’s replicated that throughout her sparkling career.
The red hair dyed (this could change) Oshoala is being linked with a move to Manchester United Women, a deal that would see her return to England four years after her departure.
Hands up if you’d like to see Nigeria’s finest in the red and black of Manchester United. I know I would, so Red Devils, make it happen!