The World Cup is a showcase—of the sport, its teams, and its individual talents. It’s also a competition that crowns the best soccer nation in the world, but only a handful of teams realistically can lift the trophy, and only one will. As a month-long tournament that primarily pits teams with no shot of winning the title against each other, the World Cup’s appeal has to extend beyond the mere act of coronation itself. Hence, it’s value as a showcase.
Though there are only four or five truly elite teams, there are many, many more elite players, and they can be found on several different national teams. The promise of the World Cup is for the world to discover these talented players in all of their glory, showering them with the attention and appreciation most all of them never receive on the much less visible club level. The hope of the tournament is that the best players will maximize this opportunity and showcase their best selves when the brightest lights finally do point down on them.
Nigerian forward Asisat Oshoala is one such player with breath-taking skills who deserves to hear what it sounds like when the whole world gasps in reaction to the things she’s capable of doing. As the star piece of a strong forward line, Oshoala was one of the main reasons why Nigerian fans had legitimate hope that this World Cup would be different.
As Africa’s hegemonic power in women’s soccer, Nigeria have qualified for every World Cup with ease. When they get there, though, the Super Falcons are almost always dominated. Nigeria have only progressed out of the group stage once, and coming into this tournament had only won three of their 22 total World Cup matches.
Nigerian forwards Desire Oparanozie, Francisca Ordega, and especially Oshoala were supposed to change this, only that didn’t look to be happening early on. In the first match of the tournament, Norway breezily dispatched Nigeria while hardly breaking a sweat. Norway were up three goals before halftime, and though Nigeria gamely tried to get back into the match, Oshoala and Co. came up short. That loss, plus France’s convincing win, further shrunk Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the knockout round, as they’d most likely have to do it as one of the third place group finishers. Moreover, it was a waste of one of the very limited opportunities Oshoala would have to show what she can do.
The most crucial match of Nigeria’s World Cup was always going to be their second match against South Korea, so all was not lost after the Norway loss. South Korea were the only team in the group that could be described as Nigeria’s equal, and the match between the two would be both teams’ best chance to get the win they’d need to have any shot of playing in the knockout rounds. Oshoala wouldn’t have a better platform in this tournament from which to showcase her talent.
Thankfully, Oshoala did get her moment when she scored Nigeria’s second goal to seal a hugely important 2-0 win. And it was the perfect encapsulation of why Oshoala is so good and how Nigeria can best use her abilities to win.
The goal came from a simple South Korean turnover, which Nigeria instantly turned into a dangerous counter. Full back Chidinma Okeke saw the errant Korean pass and immediately tore after it, collected the ball, and burst into open space down the wing with a perfect knock-on touch that let her fly around an opponent’s challenge. When Okeke picked up her head, she saw Oshoala making a quintessential Oshoala run as the forward burned toward Korea’s end of the pitch. Now just about level with South Korea’s back line, Oshoala pointed at where she wanted the ball and Okeke lifted a pass behind the defense.
Though Korean defender Hwang Bo-ram had about a yard on Oshoala at the start of the sprint for ball, the Nigerian’s warping speed eliminated that space in just a few steps. The two met at the ball, but with a touch and a shrug Oshoala nudged off the defender and won herself some space. Hwang had no chance of keeping pace with Oshoala, so she slid in for a hopeless tackle that connected with nothing but grass. Oshoala took a touch to set herself up, took another one to round the keeper, and from an actually pretty difficult angle, pinched the ball into the open net. The movement, the speed, the strength, and the composed finishing that make Oshoala so great were all on display in what now has to be the biggest moment of her career:
Nigeria will be huge underdogs when they take on France in their last match of the group. Today’s win alone gives them a great chance to make it to the round of 16, though, and in that game they’d likely be big underdogs again against either Germany or Brazil. Nigeria can’t win the World Cup, and they probably wouldn’t be able to win a single knockout round match even if they do qualify. But while making it out of the group would be welcome progress for the Nigerian women’s soccer program and a cool achievement for the players themselves, from a broader, neutral perspective none of that matters too much.
What’s more important than determining how far Nigeria get before their inevitable loss is witnessing one of the World Cup’s coolest, most thrilling players having her moment under the lights and living up to it, scoring one of the best, most physically dominating goals of the tournament as only she could. The World Cup doesn’t have much to tell us that we don’t already know about who’s better and more invested in women’s soccer. But it does offer Asisat Oshoala the opportunity to tell us about herself and what makes her special. You might not have known before, but you should know now.