Nigeria’s Super Falcons are gearing up for an enthralling showdown against England’s Lionesses in the Women’s World Cup Round of 16 at the 52, 500 capacity Lang Park, Brisbane in faraway Australia.

As both teams prepare for battle on Monday, Nigeria possesses one significant advantage, and at the forefront of their charge is the exceptional goalkeeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie.

The shot-stopper was instrumental in the Falcons journey to the Round of 16, as the record African champions demonstrated a disciplined defensive strategy throughout the group stage, frustrating opponents and limiting their scoring opportunities.

In orchestrating their game plan, Nnadozie, 22, has been a standout performer, making crucial saves, including a penalty stop against Canada, to secure Nigeria a priceless point in their opening 0-0 draw.

The youngster’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of exceptional. Playing for Paris FC and the Falcons, her remarkable goalkeeping skills, commanding presence, and exceptional ball distribution have earned her accolades as the best women’s goalkeeper in Africa and one of the best globally.

“She is so talented,” French legend, Sandrine Soubeyrand, 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.”

Her football journey began with Rivers Angels in 2016, where her performances helped the team secure victory in the 2019/20 season of the Nigeria Women’s Football League.

In January 2020, Nnadozie signed with Paris FC, further showcasing her talent on the international stage.

Her breakthrough on the global scene came during the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she received the “Dare to Shine” Player of The Match award for her outstanding performance against Haiti. Her heroic displays continued at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where she made history as the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at the tournament following Nigeria’s 2-0 victory over Korea.

Nnadozie’s remarkable performances have earned her numerous individual awards, including Africa’s Best Woman Goalkeeper by the IFFHS in 2019.

She is also the first African goalkeeper to secure two clean sheets in a World Cup group stage.

Her composure and exceptional saves have drawn comparisons to legendary Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, further solidifying her status as one of Africa’s rising football stars.

During the ongoing Women’s World Cup 2023, Nnadozie captained the Falcons in their opening game against Canada. Her three crucial saves, including veteran Christine Sinclair’s penalty, earned her the Player of The Match award.

Pictures and videos showed an emotional striker Uchenna Kanu celebrating with a tearful Nnadozie after she saved the penalty.

Kanu says Nnadozie is among the world’s best shot-stoppers.

“She’s a special goalkeeper and I’m glad I got to play with her,” Kanu told PUNCH Sports Extra.

“Chiamaka is like one of the best goalkeepers in the world.  She’s special. I believe so much in her and I know the team trusts her as well.

“So, I think it was okay for her to be emotional after she saved the penalty, and that’s exactly what I was telling her in the picture, ‘It’s okay to cry because you are the best, we are proud of you and you made everyone proud right now.’ I was just telling her things like that when she was crying.”

Nnadozie is gradually turning into a spot-kick expert.

She saved a penalty against Ivory Coast during last year’s WAFCON qualifiers to help her side reach the continental showpiece in Morocco, from where the team booked their World Cup spot.

Before then, she also saved a penalty against France at the 2019 World Cup but agonizingly watched as a replay was ordered after she was adjudged to have crossed her line before it was taken.

She told PUNC Sports Extra from Australia that she didn’t particularly dedicate time in training to saving penalty kicks.

“Yes during the AFCON qualifiers last year against Ivory Coast, I stopped a penalty to keep the team’s AFCON hopes alive,” Nnadozie told PUNCH Sports Extra.

“There’s no extra time dedicated to learning how to save penalties. I think it is down to your feelings and your mindset. It was not easy (saving Sinclair’s effort) but then I was happy I was happy to save the penalty.

“It wasn’t an easy one.”

With Nnadozie leading from the back, the Falcons have weathered the storm Down Under unscathed.

Her goalkeeping prowess will be critical against an English forward line that scored nine goals in their three group stage matches as the Lionesses made easy work of everything each defence threw at them. They will be coming into the game against the Falcons on a high, following their 6-1 rout of China in their last match of the group stage.

With an impressive display of physicality, the Falcons have distinguished themselves as a formidable force in the competition. Armed with powerful and skillful players like Asisat Oshoala, Rasheedat Ajibade, Toni Payne, Ohale Osinachi, and Ashleigh Plumptre, they have outmuscled opponents and asserted their dominance on the pitch.

England will undoubtedly not have a walkover against the physical and unpredictable Nigerians.

On Monday, all eyes, especially from the African continent, will be on Nnadozie, the Falcons’ shining beacon of hope, who serves as a source of inspiration for aspiring women goalkeepers in Africa and beyond.

As she continues to shine on the world stage, her future looks incredibly promising, and her contributions will undoubtedly play a vital role in Nigeria’s quest for glory in the Women’s World Cup.

In a tournament that’s Africa’s best so far, with three — Nigeria, South Africa, and Morocco — out of its four representatives reaching the knockout stage, the last 16 clash against the English, Nigeria’s colonial masters, is another stage for Nnadozie to prove her mettle.

Again, Africans home and abroad expect her to lead the Falcons from the back, stopping everything the English attack will throw at her, and helping the Falcons to a heroic victory that will usher the Nigerians into the quarter-finals.

Go Nnadozie, it is possible!

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