Many have claimed that there is something in the water in Nigeria that leads to the continuous yielding of top quality and world class footballers from this country.
It is easier to believe this line of thought than to try and find holes in it. How else can you explain that the same area code that birthed the legendary Rashidi Yekini is the same one that gave Daniel Amokachi, Jay Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Stephen Keshi, Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu to newbie Victor Osimhen, to mention but a few, to the world?
Yekini, who scored Nigeria’s first ever goal at the FIFA World Cup back in 1994, is until now the Super Eagles highest goal scorer with 37 to his name, despite passing on in May 2012.
Amokachi born nine years after Yekini won the AFCON 1994, bagged gold at the 1996 Olympics and featured at two World Cups in 1994 and 1998 – a stalwart on the field and in the dressing room.
All this and more have since inspired an entire generation. At the top of the pyramid is the fast-paced, highly skilled and lethal Rasheedat Ajibade.
The Blue Haired Girl – who features for Atletico Madrid in Spain’s topflight league – has worked her way up the ladder to claim a seat at the high table and deservedly so.
Ajibade whose name means ‘royalty’ is busy exhibiting her supreme qualities on the wing for the Super Falcons, who are seeking a record-extending 10th title at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco.
Opening her goalscoring account at the tournament with a 92nd minute fine finish against rivals South Africa in the first game on Monday was an early warning to their opponents that she is one to watch out for.
“Playing for Nigeria is an absolute honour. I will never take it for granted. There are millions of Nigerian players out there that could be here. I feel that I am doing great in my field and that is why I have the opportunity to be here. I put in my best, on and off the pitch,” she tells with great humility.
Ajibade’s path to the top has been a clear case of “Rome was not built in a day” with the 22-year old having featured at two FIFA U17 Women’s World Cups in 2014 and 2016, as well as the 2016 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup, where she was handed the armband.
Two years later, she made her WAFCON debut and scored her first goal against Zambia in a 4-0 thrashing of the Copper Queens in the group stages before the Super Falcons were crowned for the ninth time.
Fast forward and Ajibade is back at the continental event in search of her second title but to achieve that, the Blue Haired Girl and the Super Falcons will have to dig deep to achieve their objective.
“We have to take one game at a time and make sure that the goal is the trophy, so we shall play to achieve that,” explains Ajibade.
Nigeria lost their opener against South Africa 1-2 before bouncing back to register a 2-0 victory against tournament debutants Botswana. The Super Falcons face another side playing at the tournament for the first time, Burundi, on Sunday.
As Ajibade continues her on-the-pitch duties, she fully understands how important her success is to young girls back home.
The Accounting graduate from Lagos State Polytechnic had to delay her move into professional football so that she could complete school first before commiting to a club outside Nigeria.
“My family likes education. I feel like I had to finish my degree first. It was important for me to finish school because I was also underage to move abroad so it was a bit challenging because when I saw people that I was older than playing in Europe – while I was still playing in Nigeria – it was tough.”
“But when things like this happen, you have to know the right time to make a move. When you believe in God, things align and fall into place. Education is very important because you can fall back to it after you are done playing football,” Ajibade explains with a content smile.
This attitude and maturity is reflected in more ways than one when the Blue Haired Girl is on the field of play. The fans love her and with every run she makes, they cheer and sing her name.
At the Moulay Hassan Stadium in Rabat, Ajibade has become a fan favourite for her work ethic, admirable game-reading sharpness and her continued aggressiveness to trouble the opposing defence.
You can hear the fans chanting “inside the net, inside the net, inside the net” whenever she makes a run at goal. Ahead of their game against Burundi, the fans are expected to return in full voice to continue from where they started.
This game will be live on SuperSport in Nigeria on Sunday at 21h00 local time