Skipper of the Super Falcons, Onome Ebi, spoke to ADEKUNLE SALAMI on her 20-year journey as a senior national team player and the future of the game in the country. Excerpts:
What is your view on the Nigeria’s women domestic football league?
I am really impressed with what I am seeing in the domestic league because there are huge developments now that were not there when I was in the country as a player. It was not like this. I saw clips of some games and was amazed with the standard I saw. I was at the Super Six draw recently in Lagos and I saw some great goals shown in a review television package and was so happy with the overall standard of the girls. It is a good development for the country and it also means we have people to look up to as future stars in the game.
How will you rate upcoming female players in the age-grade teams gradually joining the Super Falcon?
The young players in the senior team deserve their places in the team. The coaches did their work to bring them in and so far they are showing great form. The coaches saw the talents in them before bringing them to join us.
So far, those being injected have been up to the task, challenging the senior ones and providing great competition in the team. The calibre of junior players we have in Nigeria is really impressive. The future is so bright for the country.
Tell us about your journey as a professional player abroad from the first team you played for…
It has not been easy as a professional player abroad but I must say it has been fun because I love the game. There are so many emotions because of the good and bad times. I started my profession career at Omidiran Babes in Osogbo and from there moved to Bayelsa Queens. I had a great time in these two teams in Nigeria and I moved to Turkey but only trained with them without playing. I then moved to Sweden’s Damallsvensk and that was my first professional experience abroad. I spent three years in Sweden and moved back to Turkey with Ataşehir Belediyespor FC and then to Belarus from where I moved to China with Henan Jianye and then back to Belarus now with FC Minsk. It has been an interesting journey as a football player with good and bad times but overall it has been sweet. I am enjoying the journey so far.
Where did your national team journey start and how?
My national team journey started when I was in Omidiran Babes. It was after my secondary school in 2001. I was then invited into the national U-19 team. In 2002, I was invited to the Super Falcons team as a striker. I was so young and there was an incident involving me and Patience Avre. She was a sprinter of sort on the pitch and once she takes the ball nobody could meet her and I ran to retrieve the ball from her. Some senior players were teasing her that a small girl tacked her to get the ball. From then the coach saw something in me that could be great in the defence. So I became a defender but did not make the team in 2002 but from Omidiran Babes in 2003, I made the national team and since then till now, I am still standing tall with the Falcons. I was only on the bench only once or so. By the grace of God, my hard work has paid off to remain strong in the team and doing well for my country.
What are your expectations for the forthcoming Women AFCON in Morocco
T h e forthcoming Women Nations Cup in Morocco will be tough but let me state clearly that despite our successes on the continent, there has never been an easy Nations Cup. We work really hard and struggle to get the results because Nigeria is a big name in African football. Every country aspires to beat us. They play their best game against us and the in those few defeats we have recorded, the teams celebrated as if they won the gold medal or a World Cup trophy. Because we are the current champion, it will still be tough but we are working hard and will be fully ready. My teammates and I are determined to go out there to win again. I am aware that the technical crew and even the federation are playing their part to put us in perfect shape for the competition. Only recently, we were in Canada for two friendly games to toughen us as part of preparations for the competition. I am sure we will still play some tune up games before the competition. We are going to Morocco to win the trophy and qualify for the World Cup again. We are very ready for all oppositions in the competition. We are also aware that there are no pushovers in the tournament. We will approach all the matches seriously because all eyes are on us. All teams will be handled same way in Morocco.
South Africa defeated Nigeria last year in the Aisha Buhari Cup and they are in same group with the country, how will the Super Falcons handle this?
We will handle South Africa the way we will handle any other team. Football is a game but not many people understand that. You win some, you lose some. For Nigeria, we are the champions of Africa. In Africa, we are number one. So, when a team in Africa beats Nigeria, it’s like they won a gold medal. I can remember, in 2018 or so, South Africa was our first opponent and they defeated us 1-0. During the Aisha Buhari Cup in Lagos, they defeated us again. That made it two times. So, this is like a wake-up call or a rematch of playing against South Africa. We are going to play against them and it’s nothing. South Africa is just like any other team.
For us, we are not afraid of anybody. I can say that with confidence. I can stand and say that on behalf of myself, my team mates and Nigerians. We are not scared of any African team. We are all Africans, we are all football players, we will go there and play against South Africa. South Africa is a team like every other team.
Maybe they deserve the credit because they defeated us, so I commend them, they beat us in Aisha Buhari game but we are going to play again in the Nation’s Cup. We are 100 per cent ready for this competition, we will go there and do our best and we would make sure we retain our trophy and qualify for the World Cup. I think that’s the most important thing.
Where do you see women football in the next five years in Nigeria?
With what I saw during the draw for the Super Six, I think women football in Nigeria would be the talk of the town around the world in the next five years because they are growing really fast. I knew Nigerian football would be very big but I didn’t expect it this soon. So, for that I want to commend Mrs Aisha Falode and the President of Nigeria Football Federation, Mr Amaju Pinnick, for their wonderful work of developing women football in Nigeria because we all can see the growth in the league. I want to say that in the next five years, Nigeria’s League is going to be the cynosure of all eyes across the world, I am sure about this based on the current situation on the ground in terms of talents and various programmes being organised to make the players better. It is only a matter of time, Nigeria will surely rule women football at global level.
What do you do in your spare time when you are not playing football?
I like to sleep. Mostly after my training, I like to sleep a lot to get my strength back. I love to watch cartoons, mostly animation movies. I like to also play mostly with my phone, and if I’m not training, I like to watch movies. I like going for shopping. There isn’t so much to do when I’m not playing football but mostly, I love to sleep.
Tell us about your most memorable moments in the game so far My most memorable moment was the first time I won the Nations Cup.
That was something every football player wish for and I got it. I think that will be my most memorable moment. And even the last World Cup we played in France, so many people were in doubt about my performance, my age and other stuff but I was able to convince people again and make them to still believe in me and even more because then I played even more than I used to play with my experience, strength and everything. I think the last World Cup in France and my first ever trophy at the Nation’s Cup.
With five World Cup outings and six Nations Cups, how do you feel among your colleagues in the national team?
I feel normal like every other player. I don’t see myself like playing six Nations Cup and five World Cup. When we are in camp, when we are in the national team together, I see myself like every other player. I don’t see myself that special. Others can see and treat me specially or accord me respect but when we are on the pitch, we are all equal. When some see me, they will say ‘oh senior player!’ I do appreciate that but putting it in my head that I’ve played five World Cup finals and six Nation’s Cup competitions, No. That is history and we are looking for what is next and that is getting results in every game and competition we compete in. So, I don’t put that my record of appearances in my head. It is great to have been representing the country in the past 20 years but I know my story is a continuous story. I love the game and will continue to do my best for the country. I try my best to encourage the young ones to put in their best and be of good conduct to enable them be good to themselves and the country.