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Asisat Lamina Oshoala… the drum beat goes on


Mane (left), Oshoala, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohammed Salah at the 2017 CAF Awards ceremony in Accra, Ghana

The Super Falcons’ camp was silent when doctors’ report came that four key members of the squad might not be able to recover for their semifinal cracker against the Banyana Banyana of South Africa.

That was in November 2016, when Cameroun hosted the 10th edition of the African Women Nations Cup.

“A semifinal against South Africa without Asisat Oshoala, Onome Ebi, Ugo Njoku and Faith Ikidi would be a difficult task for us to execute,” head coach, Florence Omagbemi, said repeatedly, as she made her way into the team’s bus from the Limbe Ominisport Stadium for their journey to the Parliamentarian Hotel located on Cameroon Mountain in Buea.

The waiting game lasted for two days, with coach Omagbemi and her two assistants, Ann Chiejine and Perpetua Nkwocha, praying anxiously for God’s healing to come upon Oshoala and three others.

Omagbemi’s trouble and tension in Super Falcons camp was further heightened following a declaration by the head coach of Banyana Banyana, Desiree Ellis, that her team would roast the Falcons for dinner in the absence of Oshoala and co.

With less than 24 hours to the game, the picture was not too clear whether Oshoala and the other injured players would be available for the match. But Omagbemi kept praying and hoping for a better medical report to come from the doctors’ room. It came just when the coaches were already thinking of preparing other players to replace the injured four.

The semifinal cracker against the Banyana Banyana was so explosive. It took the extra effort of Desire Oparanozie to unlock the South African defence for Nigeria’s victory, the only goal of the match.

Though she did not score in the semifinal against the Banyana Banyana, Oshoala was the happiest among the players throughout their journey to the hotel in Buea.

“I feel on top of the world at the moment,” Oshoala told The Guardian amidst drumming and singing encored by prayer warrior and non-playing striker, Ijeoma Obi. “This victory against South Africa did not come easy, and I am beginning to feel that the trophy belongs to us. I will be the happiest person if we beat Cameroon in the final,” Oshoala stated.

Before the match against the Banyana Banyana, Oshoala had jumped into the lead on the goal scorer chat; following her four strike in the 6-0 demolition of their fellow West Africans, Mali, in Group B’s first match.

The Super Falcons went on to beat the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroun 1-0 in one of the most explosive finals ever witnessed in the history of the competition with the goal coming from Oparanozie in the dying minutes.

However, the biggest gainer of Cameroun 2016 AWFCON was Asisat Lamina Oshoala.

She was crowned the African Footballer of the Year later that year, her second title after receiving the accolade in 2014 following her exploits in Windhoek, Namibia.

That same year (2014), Oshoala set a record, which no other African female player has achieved in history of women football in the continent.

Oshoala, who hails from Ikorodu, Lagos State, won FIFA Adidas Golden Ball and Adidas Golden Boot at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, where she emerged as highest goal scorer with seven goals. Her performances led Nigeria to the final, where they were narrowly beaten by Germany.

From the World Cup in Canada, the young striker started to break records internationally.

Apart from her emergence as the Most Valuable Player at Namibia 2014 African Women’s Championship (AWC), where she equally won the Silver Boot award for scoring four goals, Oshoala was named as the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, beating star players including Spain’s Veronica Boquete, German Nadine Kessler, Scot Kim Little and Brazilian Marta to the honour.

She won her third award as African Women’s Footballer of the Year at a ceremony held in Ghana’s capital city Accra, in 2017.

Since then, Oshoala has been unstoppable. The road to her latest win in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday night has been anything but straightforward.

On a day Nigerian male players were missing on the list of awardees, Oshoala saved the day for Nigeria at the 28th edition of the CAF Awards, where African footballers and officials who distinguished themselves in 2019 were celebrated.

Oshoala was named African Women Player of the Year for the fourth time, equalling the record of her compatriot, Perpetua Nkwocha.

Coincidentally, Perpetua Nkwocha is Oshoala’s role model in football. Oshoala once revealed to The Guardian during Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup that she always played better whenever she was fielded alongside her role model, Nkwocha.

The World Cup in Canada was Nkwocha’s last for the Super Falcons before she was appointed into the coaching crew in 2016.

Unlike in 2014 and 2016, when Oshoala contested against Camerounian Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene and Chrestina Kgatlana of South Africa for the top prize, the ceremony in Cairo on Tuesday saw the FC Barcelona striker garnered 351 votes, 30 more than Camerounian forward Ajara Nchout and Thembi Kgatlana, who had 247 votes.

No doubt, Oshoala remains Nigeria’s biggest pride in women football across the globe.

After Namibia 2014 Nations Cup, Oshoala took her soccer trade to England, where she signed for Liverpool. She later crossed to Arsenal Ladies before moving to the Far East, where she signed for Chinese club, Dalian Quanjian FC, in 2017. Oshoala joined Spanish club FC Barcelona in January 2019.

Oshoala’s name is synonymous with dogged determination and loyalty with a sense of discipline. She has never been reported to be involved in any scandal whatsoever throughout her short but very illustrious career.

Oshoala, who scored in Barcelona’s Champions League final defeat to Lyon, was delighted to be recognised.

“Grateful to be African Women’s Player of the year for the 4th time,” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank God, my Family, Friends and Fans for the support. Big shoutout to my club, my management, teammates at both national team and club level and of course thanks to @CAF_Online for the opportunity.”

Liverpool’s Sadio Mané was named African Footballer of the Year for the first time after beating his teammate Mohamed Salah and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez.

The Senegal forward received his award from the four-time winner Samuel Eto’o at a star-studded ceremony in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada in Egypt, which was also attended by the former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. Salah was not in attendance.

Having finished as runner-up to the Egypt forward for the last two years, Mane becomes the second Senegalese to win the award after another Liverpool player, El Hadji-Diouf, in 2001 and 2002.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mane said: “To be honest I would prefer to be playing football than speaking in front of so many people. I’m really happy and really proud at the same time. I would like to thank my family, especially my uncle who is here today. It is a big day for me and I would love to thank all the Senegalese people who have been voting for me. I’m from a very small village called Bambali and I’m sure they are all watching me tonight.”

As well as helping Liverpool to victory in the Champions League final in June, Mane shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after a momentous season for African players in English football.

The 27-year-old Mane has continued his good form into this season having already scored 11 league goals in Liverpool’s brilliant start to the campaign that sees them lead the table by 13 points from Leicester. He scored 36 goals in total during 2019.

Algeria were named as men’s team of the year, with Djamel Belmadi picking up the coaching award. Cameroon, who were beaten by England at the Women’s World Cup last summer, were named women’s team of the year.

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