The last thing Desire Oparanozie will be remembered for in the Super Falcons is missing a penalty during the shootout against England in the round 16 of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
After a gruelling 120 minutes of football, which ended goalless, the Falcons were knocked out on penalties with the former captain sending Nigeria’s first penalty high into the stands after George Stanway had missed the first kick for England.
That miss was an irony, because Oparanozie is renowned as a good penalty taker and that is one of the things it takes to play first in a game of that magnitude. She was brought into the game with just six minutes left to play in extra time, and that also explains her mission on the pitch.
After being out of the team for about two years, what would be her first involvement on the pitch for the Falcons ended in disappointment at the World Cup and it is not surprising it culminated in her retirement.
What is however shocking is that she is quitting football at club and country level at the age of 29.
“To my fans, family, and friends, thank you for the show of love and support over the years. It’s time to take a bow, as I believe there’s no better time than now. I’m officially announcing my retirement from professional football for both club and country,” Oparanozie announced her retirement via her X handle (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday.
“To every team and coach I have played for, to every mate I’ve played alongside, and to every opponent I have played against, thank you all for being part of this incredible journey. Thank you, football, thank you Nigeria.”
To say Oparanozie was crestfallen after the Falcons ouster from the World Cup is stating the obvious. Even while the Falcons were hailed for their impressive outing, the striker, unlike some of her teammates, was not bold enough to look into the camera during their departure and arrival in Nigeria.
Although she apologised for the penalty miss, whatever happened cannot taint her legacy with the national team. In 36 games for the Super Falcons, she scored 22 goals and won four Women’s Africa Cup of Nations titles for her country.
Oparanozie began her career for Nigeria at youth level, twice at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2010 and 2012, where she scored two and three goals respectively. Nigeria reached the final in 2010, losing 2-0 to hosts Germany in the final and also reached the semi-finals in 2012, where they lost 2-0 to the United States.
Between that period, she had also been invited to the Falcons for the 2010 African Women’s Championship, now known as WAFCON. As a 17-year-old then, Oparanozie had a lot to learn from veteran striker Perpetua Nkwocha, who was the most prolific women’s footballer on the continent then.
At the 2010 tournament, Oparanozie did not hide under the shadows of Nkwocha, scoring her first goal of the tournament in the 3-0 thrashing of Tanzania in the last group game. She also went ahead to score one goal each in the semi-final and the final as Nigeria won its eighth continental title in South Africa.
She missed the 2012 tournament but was back and established in 2014, 2016 and 2018, as the Falcons won the title on the three occasions. She is notable for her crucial goals in the 2014 and 2016 tournaments. She scored a 54th minute goal against South Africa in 2016 to book a final spot for Nigeria and her late goal against Cameroon in the final won the 10th title for Nigeria.
“Desire Oparanozie’s retirement is a huge shock but she’s had a hard time with injuries. One of the best Super Falcons strikers ever. I remember how Cameroonian journalists joked with me in Yaounde in 2017, that she used juju to score the 2016 WAFCON winner. They couldn’t believe it,” journalist Nurudeen Obalola stated on X.
“Thank you for an amazing career. It’s been an honour and a pleasure watching, commenting and analysing your games. That 86th minute winner against Cameroon in the 2016 AWCON remains one of the finest ever by any Nigerian footballer,” another journalist, Babatunde Koiki, remarked.
The striker also played at four Women’s World Cups in 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023 but didn’t score at any of the tournaments.
Since breaking into the senior women’s team, Oparanozie has been one of the most consistent players for the Falcons and when the transition of a new generation dawned in 2019, she was named the new captain of the team by coach Thomas Dennerby, who praised her for her “discipline and good character.”
But her problem with the national team began with her leadership role in the team. Following the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, in her role as captain, she led calls for equal pay in Nigerian football, citing disparity between the bonuses received by the team’s male counterparts the Super Eagles and the Falcons. The players also protested their unpaid bonuses and allowances.
It led to her ban from the team but the NFF, through its spokesperson Ademola Olajire, denied her dropping had nothing to do with the protest.
“Oparanozie is still part of the team’s plans, and her non-inclusion has nothing to do with that protest in France because she was not the only one involved. I think she will just have to keep working on her game and, if she gets the opportunity, then push for consistent selection.”
The former Falcons captain lashed out at the NFF for saying that she needed to push harder to be selected, when she was dropped for subsequent games.
“Work on my game and push for consistent selection. Those who’ve been without a club for over a year now, how many of their games did they work on over the past year to merit their inclusion?” she said while reacting to Olajire’s comments.
Overlooked for national team duties, Oparanozie was not distracted at club level as she consistently showed the Nigeria Football Federation what they were missing by not inviting her. After leaving Turkey in 2014, she spent six years with Guingamp, scoring 45 times in 106 games, which made fans of the club name a bus-stop after her in Guingamp.
She also played for Dijon between 2020 and 2022, scoring seven times in 25 appearances as well.
Before going abroad, she had stints with Bayelsa Queens and Delta Queens between 2010 and 2012.
She probably could have been on her way out of the national team unceremoniously in 2021. Therefore, returning to the Falcons after two years was no mean feat. It perhaps proves she deserved her place in the team all these while even if she lost the captaincy.
Eventually, it is safe to say she read the room by quitting after the 2023 World Cup, having been injured for most parts of her last appearances for the Falcons, as she only played six minutes in Australia and New Zealand.
Going by the culture of the Falcons and how Oparanozie herself broke into the national team at 17, it is only a matter of time before emerging strikers like Opeyemi Ajakaye and Sebastine Flourish, who recently dazzled at junior levels, break into the Falcons, while the likes of Uchenna Kanu, Gift Monday, Esther Okoronkwo and Raheedat Ajibade can still carry the team for a few more years.
How Day Six Lifted Rivers At NYG
Team Rivers added six more medals to their total haul on Day 7 of the National Youth Games in Asaba, Delta State. The medals include two gold and four bronze.
In 4×400 metres male, the quartet of Michael Aniche, Benjamin Progress (both 13), Willngton Majesty and Daniel Caleb (both 14) returned a time 3 mins, 26 secs to pick the gold medal.
In 4×400 metres girls, four 14-year-olds Osinachi Miracle Sunny, Queen Nwika, Esther Barasin and Valerie Amapakagbo, came third behind Delta and Anambra to get bronze.
Still in the relays, this time in the 4×100 metres for boys, 14-year-old Itoemugh Kingsley teamed up with Daniel Caleb, Michael Aniche and Gauis Expensive for yet another bronze medal performance.
Gaius Expensive, a 14-year-old SS3 student of Community Secondary School, Ogan-Ama narrowly surrendered second place to his Akwa Ibom counterpart to land his second bronze of the day, in the 200 metres boys, while age-mate Honest Dike of Baptist Vocational College, Ahoada also landed bronze in the 800 metres boys, behind Taraba and Gombe.
The second gold medal of the day for Team Rivers came in the final of baseball for boys. The team found themselves one run down before rallying to beat Kwara by 4 runs to 3.
The game which was almost marred by trouble was disrupted when the crowd, solidly behind the Rivers side perceived some fowl officiating.
However, the team, which according to Coach Fineface Fate and manager, Shaibu Adamson has been together for about a year, came from behind to win, with runs from Abdulkadiri Idowu, Yusuf Sodiq, Abdulfatai Abdullahi and Matthew Ayoola.
The games ended yesterday with the closing ceremony.
Bakery Worker Secures Gold For Anambra In Asaba
Anambra State Karateka, Goodluck Njoku defeated Joshua Ehiozubue from Lagos State with 7-0 points on Friday to win a gold medal in the 50kg boys karate event at the ongoing National Youth Games in Asaba, Delta State.
The newly crowned 50kg champion revealed that he works in the bakery to support himself and to avoid social vices.
The 13-year-old said that it was while he was on his way to work that he met Sensei Godwin Okoro who introduced him to karate. Making his debut at the 2023 Youth Games,
Njoku promised not to disappoint the state in future national championships, noting that this is just the beginning.
“I want to thank God Almighty for his goodness and mercies in my life. In my category, I was the shortest, and I still won the gold medal. During the holidays, I work in the bakery to support myself and my parents because I do not want to remain idle.
“I attend Okpoko Community Primary School, and after closing hours, I still go to the bakery to make a little money. One day, Sensei Godwin Okoro saw me and decided to introduce me to karate. I do not know what he saw in me, but I thank God he took me in.
“The state has given me the necessary exposure at the National Youth Games, and this is an opportunity to give back to the state via winning medals. I want to assure you that this is just the beginning of the success story,” he said.
Squash Top Seeds Show Class At Classics
Top seeds, Onaopemipo Adegoke and Rophiat Abudulazeez showed class after winning the maiden edition of the Bolatito Adeyemo Squash Classics held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium at the weekend.
Top 16 players made up of eight men and eight women competed at the two-day tournament.
Adegoke who recently won his first Professional Squash Association (PSA) tournament, defeated Gabriel Olufunmilayo 3-2 to clinch the men’s trophy.
Abudulazeez defeated Jadesola Olatunji 3-0 to reach the finals, while Adegoke defeated Kehinde Samuel by 3-0 to advance into the finals.
Abudulazeez defeated Mistura Durosinlorun 3-1 as she maintained dominance in the women’s category.
For her feat, Abudulazeez went home with N100,000 while Durosinlorun took N60, 000 home while Olatunji and Isaac humbly went home with N30,000 each.
“My trip to Namibia really got me tired but we can’t just ignore this tournament. My game in Namibia also helped but I’m really fagged out,” she said.
Adegoke said that training hard and having played in highly competitive tournaments in recent times have helped to keep him in form.
“Winning my first PSA title in Namibia was a dream come true, there was minus zero support from the audience but with God’s grace and a healthy mental strength I was able to keep it together,” he said.
Prize money for the men’s category is N130,000 while the second position goes home with N80,000 while the third position and fourth position goes home with N40,000 and N20,000 respectively.
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