The FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 has seen some superb goalkeeping performances, and among them is a record-breaking one from Chiamaka Nnadozie.
Nigeria entered their second match against Korea Republic under the pressure of knowing that, following a 3-0 loss to Norway, only victory would preserve realistic hope of a top-two finish in Group A.
Many coaches would have played it safe, but Thomas Dennerby handed the gloves to the 18-year-old from Imo State, and she responded with a clean sheet in a 2-0 win.
“My coach called me and said, ‘This is your time’,” Nnadozie told FIFA.com. “It was a dream that came true.”
Nnazodie’s rise in Nigerian women’s football has been rapid. She started playing football as a 12-year-old and was quickly elevated into the U-17 and U-20 national teams. Last year she pulled on the gloves at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and displayed her potential in a Player of the Match performance against Haiti in Brittany. It was in that tournament that Nnadozie set her sights on returning to France for the senior global finals.
“I knew it was going to come true, because when I was coming up my coach used to tell me, ‘Work hard, you will get there’,” she said. “I really worked for it. Every time at training, I gave it my best. Even if I was tired, I would keep pushing.”
Nnadozie carried only one target into France 2019.
“I told myself that before the end of the tournament, by God’s grace, I must keep goal in one match,” she said. “When I was called upon to keep goal, though I was a little bit scared, I encouraged myself, I told myself, ‘Come on, you’ve been doing it during the friendly matches, so you have to do it now’.”
Nnadozie achieved her pre-tournament goal in a performance against Korea Republic that demonstrated poise and maturity beyond her years. She became, at 18 years and 186 days, the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at the Women’s World Cup.
“After the match, when I saw the post, I was so happy,” said Nnadozie. “A young girl like me getting a good record, I was so proud of myself.
“I am so proud of the defence. They did great. I know I can’t do it without them – they made it possible for me.”
Nnadozie’s chemistry with the defensive unit illustrated how quickly she has made herself a part of the Nigerian squad. The remarkable calm the teenager displays on the pitch contrasts her infectious personality off it.
“I love playing, joking around with people,” she said. “Whenever I notice you are angry or sad, I will come and do some funny things. I love seeing people around me happy.
”Sometimes when I am not around, they will call me saying, ‘We miss you’. Whenever I come in, when everyone is moody, I will just do one funny thing and they will laugh.”
Nigeria face on-song hosts France on Monday. Nnadozie was in goal as the Super Falcons lost 8-0 to Les Bleues in a friendly last year, but she is adamant history won’t repeat itself.
“I know they will feel relaxed, think that they will maybe score more than eight goals.
“It’s going to be a tough game. They are one of the best teams in the competition, but we are letting them know that it’s not going to be like that again.
“That was last year. I know we are not going to lose. We are going to make our country proud.”