FIFA docuseries All Roads Lead Down Under went behind-the-scenes with the Super Falcons and their impressive young forward, Rasheedat Ajibade.
“I think she has the potential to be one of the best players in the world.”
Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum is discussing Rasheedat Ajibade, and is in no doubt that this exciting attacker – “technically unbelievable, great pace” – can scale the summit of the beautiful game.
Ajibade herself, the self-described “girl with the blue hair”, holds similarly lofty ambitions for her burgeoning career. But the 23-year-old says that her achievements thus far – which include finishing joint-top scorer at last year’s CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and excelling for Spanish giants Atletico Madrid – already represent something of a miracle.
“Looking backwards, l can’t comprehend [what I’ve done] considering how I grew up, and the kind of challenges I went through as a child,” she explains in All Roads Lead Down Under.
At the WAFCON, that plan involved Ajibade stepping up when star striker Asisat Oshoala picked up an injury and Nigeria stood on the brink of losing their status as FIFA Women’s World Cup™ ever-presents.
All Roads Lead Down Under, a ground-breaking behind-the-scenes documentary series that tells the story of the Australia & New Zealand 2023 qualifiers, was inside the Super Falcons camp as defeat to South Africa left them facing up to a historic failure.
“There’s always pressure for Nigeria,” Waldrum says in the docuseries. “You’ve got a nation that’s very passionate and sometimes the people are going to be happy, sometimes they’re not.”
Nigeria’s traditional dominance – they had won 11 of the previous 13 WAFCONs – only increased the pressure on the American coach and his much-scrutinised squad.
“It’s a challenge to stay on top every time,” Ajibade admits to the FIFA camera crew. “Achieving success is easy; maintaining success is more difficult. It’s overwhelming.”
It is at such times, when the pressure is on and the flak is flying, that the Nigeria star – as she explains in All Roads Lead Down Under – draws comfort from her faith.
The Atletico star’s inch-perfect header ultimately settled the outcome, leaving the Super Falcons to look forward to a ninth successive appearance at the global showpiece. And while Nigeria went on to lose to hosts Morocco in the WAFCON semi-finals, ending hopes of a fourth successive continental title, Waldrum expresses optimism about the team’s prospects in the medium-to-long term.
“Can Nigeria win the World Cup? Absolutely,” he insisted. “But are we right now one of the top six or eight teams in the world? I’d have to answer that we’re not there yet.
“If we want to consistently do what England is doing, the US, or another of those top teams, there are things we still need to get better at. That’s the goal that I have.”