By Samuel Ahmadu
Randy Waldrum has left Levante Las Planas star Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene out of Nigeria’s squad for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with six others from the Morocco 2022 TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations also omitted.
Nigeria’s head coach named his final 23-woman squad, on Friday, comprising three goalkeepers, seven defenders, six midfielders, and seven strikers for the global showpiece to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to August 20.
Okobi-Okeoghene is the notable exception, having inspired the West Africans’ attack when she dribbled past her marker to set up Ifeoma Onumonu, whose cross Rasheedat Ajibade’s headed home for a 58th-minute quarterfinal winner against Cameroon.
Besides Okobi-Okeoghene, Lokomotiv Moscow striker Chinonyerem Macleans, Besiktas forward Vivian Ikechukwu, Sporting Braga midfielder Peace Efih, Saint Ettiene star Regina Otu, and Rivers Angels star Akudo Ogbonna also missed out.
However, Waldrum kept confidence in the majority of players who were involved in last year’s Women’s Afcon outing where the nine-time African champions had an underwhelming campaign, finishing fourth, after a 1-0 third-place loss to Zambia.
Surprise selections are midfield pair Jennifer Echegini of Florida State University, USA, and former Nigeria U20 star Deborah Abiodun, who now plays for Pittsburgh University, USA.
Waldrum has a wealth of attacking options despite the omissions of Imo and Macleans, with Tenerife duo of Gift Monday and Esther Okoronkwo, Atletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade competing with the likes of Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala, CSKA Moscow forward Francisca Ordega, and Wuhan’s Desire Oparanozie for selection in Australia.
Just as Waldrum aims to make an impactful campaign on his first-ever appearance as a coach at the Women’s World Cup, 13 of the 23-player squad will share similar quests as debutants.
Despite Bayelsa Queens exploits at last year’s CAF Women’s Champions League, no active player in the Nigeria Women’s Football League Premiership made the final roster for the first time in the country’s Women’s World Cup squad selection.
Nigeria open their Women’s World Cup campaign against Canada on July 21 before facing Australia on July 27 and the Republic of Ireland on July 31 in their remaining Group B fixtures.
NIGERIA FINAL SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC, France); Tochukwu Oluehi (Hakkarigucu Spor FC, Turkey); Yewande Balogun (AS Saint-Etienne, France)
Defenders: Onome Ebi (unattached); Osinachi Ohale (Deportivo Alaves, Spain); Glory Ogbonna (Besiktas JK, Turkey); Ashleigh Plumptre (Leicester City, England); Rofiat Imuran (Stade de Reims, France); Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash, USA); Oluwatosin Demehin (Stade de Reims, France)
Midfielders: Halimatu Ayinde (Rosengard FC, Sweden); Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid, Spain); Toni Payne (Sevilla FC, Spain); Christy Ucheibe (SL Benfica, Portugal); Deborah Abiodun (Pittsburgh University, USA); Jennifer Echegini (Florida State University, USA)
Forwards: Uchenna Kanu (Racing Louisville, Kentucky, USA); Gift Monday (UDG Tenerife, Spain); Ifeoma Onumonu (NY/NJ Gotham FC, USA); Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona, Spain); Desire Oparanozie (Wuhan Jianghan, China); Francisca Ordega (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Esther Okoronkwo (UDG Tenerife, Spain)