When head coach Randy Waldrum released Nigeria’s 23-woman roster for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
With Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala, Atletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade, China-based ace Desire Oparanozie, and veteran captain Onome Ebi on the list, it included the usual suspects.
However, there were a couple of surprise omissions, notably Ngozi Okobi, which earned Waldrum criticism. The coach was also criticized for not including any players from the domestic league.
Nonetheless, many were pleased to see Waldrum’s bold inclusion of a few youngsters who had impressed for Nigeria at the World U20 Women’s Championship the previous year.
Despite the experience being invaluable for them, it seemed highly unlikely that Rofiat Imuran (19), Deborah Abiodun (19), and Oluwatosin Demehin (21) would make any meaningful impact at that World Cup. Or so everyone thought, except coach Waldrum.
In Nigeria’s first match at the tournament against Olympic champions Canada, Waldrum did the unthinkable – he handed starts to Abiodun and Demehin, with the youngsters replacing old warhorses Halimotu Ayinde in midfield and Onome Ebi in defence. Ebi and Ayinde had 119 international caps between them, compared to the 11 that Abiodun and Demehin shared prior to the football festival.
With Canada boasting one of the world’s most renowned goal-scorers in Christine Sinclair, it was always going to be the biggest test of the two youngsters’ lives.
It was either that coach Waldrum was a risky gambler or was entirely confident in the qualities that the former Falconets stars brought to the table.
In what turned out to be one of Nigeria’s most disciplined displays at any major competition, the Super Falcons battled to a goalless draw with title favourites Canada.
Although Abiodun earned a red card later in the game, it was after she had delivered a performance that drew comparisons to former Chelsea midfield general N’golo Kante.
Demehin, on the other hand, was flawless throughout. For a player who had started her career as an attacker and, until a couple of years ago, was trying to score goals rather than prevent them, Demehin was a delight to watch alongside center-back partner Osinachi Ohale.
Canada huffed and puffed but found no way through the Falcons’ defense, even missing a penalty saved by goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.
It was clear that Demehin, who had captained Nigeria to the quarterfinals of the U20 World Cup the previous year, had earned her place through hard work and determination.
“I don’t need people to believe in me before I get validation,” Demehin told Soccernet.ng after the World Cup. “I have never doubted my ability.
“I am always ready for a game, especially in a tournament match. Whenever I am called upon to start a match, I don’t need to get ready because I am always prepared and good to go.”
After putting the challenging Canada match to bed, Demehin retained her place in the starting lineup, helping Nigeria defeat co-hosts Australia and draw with Ireland to reach the knockout rounds.
With Demehin’s “rock-and-iron” partnership with Ohale remaining impenetrable, Nigeria kept European champions England at bay for 120 minutes, securing the Falcons’ record third clean sheet in a single World Cup event.
Unfortunately, the former African champions were eliminated in the Round of 16 by the Three Lionesses on penalties.
However, no forward at the World Cup came close to testing Demehin to her breaking point.
“None of the strikers I played against gave me a tough time. Had we progressed further, I might have faced tougher opponents,” she said to Soccernet.ng.
The Pepsi Football Academy product takes pride in the fact that Canada’s Sinclair and England’s Alessia Russo did not score on her watch.
Although Demehin was disappointed by Nigeria’s early exit from the tournament, she accepted that “moments like that are part of the game, and you just have to accept them as they come and keep your head held high.”
The youngster, who would have been studying to be a surgeon at university if not for football, is delighted with her overall experience at the World Cup.
Demehin describes it as “a lifetime opportunity and a dream come true. It was a platform to showcase myself and play against some of the world’s best players.”
The centre-back, who holds Barcelona great Carles Puyol as her role model, remains unsatisfied with just one World Cup appearance. She wants more.
Demehin added, “My next target with the Falcons is to go to the Olympics and write our names in gold.”
And based on her outstanding performances in Australia, Nigerians can expect to see more of Demehin and her best friends, Rofiat Imuran and Abiodun, in the Super Falcons for a long time to come.