Nigeria’s star goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie dreams of Olympic glory in Paris

Nigeria’s star goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie dreams of Olympic glory in Paris post thumbnail image

Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, voted Africa’s best goalkeeper in 2023, has also been a key player for Paris Football Club (Paris FC) since 2020, helping the team to a clear victory (3-0) over Montpellier last weekend. Her Super Falcons, Nigeria’s national women’s football team, face South Africa on April 4 and 9 as they vie for a spot in Paris. In the run-up to her adopted city’s Olympic Games, “Maka” is staying strong in her belief that nothing happens by chance.


On July 25, the eve of the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Chiamaka Nnadozie hopes to take to the field with her team against Brazil to kick off her first Olympics. Before that, the 25-year-old goalkeeper must help the Super Falcons overcome the last African obstacle in their path: South Africa, whom Nigeria must beat in a double-header on April 4 and 9.

“South Africa have a very, very good team. I think one of their strengths is keeping the ball. They don’t believe in physical football at all. They’re good tactically, technically. I think we will try to work on that to see how we can stop them,” she says with a confident smile.

“It’s meant to be,” she adds. France has had a special importance for the Nigerian goalkeeper throughout her career.

‘The connection is just there’

Nnadozie first captured attention at FIFA’s 2018 Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France, where her performance earned her a call-up to the senior squad for the Africa Cup of Nations that same year. She was the Super Falcons’ goalkeeper for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, also held in France. 

There, the 1.80-metre-tall goalkeeper came up against Les Bleues in the group phase, persistently stymying the French forwards before finally being forced to concede defeat on a disputed penalty. But it didn’t matter: Nnadozie had caught the eye of the footballing world.

So much so, in fact, that her club future was sealed when Paris FC signed her in January 2020. Initially seen as third in their goalkeeping hierarchy, Nnadozie quickly established herself as the first-choice keeper and became a fixture at the club’s training centre in Orly, a southern suburb of Paris.   

“It was so, so terrifying ­[to leave home]. Because I’m the last child of my parents and I have a very, very good relationship with my mom. She’s like my best friend,” she recalls with emotion.

“But you know, at this point in life, you need to work for yourself. You need to hustle to make a living.”

Life in France was a bit difficult at first. “At first I didn’t like it because it was cold.  But with time … I’m used to it now. Now, apart from the language barrier, I’m very happy here … I need to learn French,” she says with a laugh.

“I think I’m a Parisian because I play for Paris, see? And it’s in my blood, and I love it … The connection is just there,” she adds.

And she hopes to be here for the Olympics, even if the road is a long one. If the Super Falcons get over the hurdle presented by South Africa, they’ll have to reach the quarterfinals, or even the final, before they can play in Paris.

An extraordinary 2023

The year 2023 was rich in emotion for the player known as “Maka” by her teammates and fans. In March, she officially extended her collaboration with Paris FC until June 2025.

In the summer FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Nnadozie once again shone on the world stage. Nigeria came within a whisker of eliminating England, the eventual finalists, in the Round of 16 (losing 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw). In the group phase, she saved a penalty to snatch a draw against reigning Olympic champions Canada. 

Nnadozie also contributed to her team’s success at the club level last year. In September, she helped her side to a surprise victory over Arsenal and Wolfsburg, giving the Parisian club their first-ever appearance in the Champions League finals.

So when the Confederation of African Football added a CAF Award for the best African goalkeeper of the year, the choice was clear. On December 11 in Marrakech, Nnadozie won the prestigious individual award at a ceremony where Nigeria ended up with a veritable haul: Victor Osimhen was voted best African player of the year and Asisat Oshoala won best female player of the year.

Chiamaka Nnadozie with her trophy for best goalkeeper in Africa at the 2023 CAF Awards.
Chiamaka Nnadozie with her trophy for best goalkeeper in Africa at the 2023 CAF Awards. © AFP

“It was incredible. It was a real incentive for me to keep working hard. I now know that the whole world is watching me,” she says. “In Africa, there’s a lot of talent, particularly in Nigeria. So I think that in the next 10 or 20 years, Nigeria wouldn’t lack any good teams in all the categories. So I’m really happy and proud to be part of this project and I’m happy to be Nigerian.” 

The dream of a lifetime

Nnadozie, a native of Orlu in southern Nigeria, faced an uphill battle at the beginning. “In the beginning, my dad was mad at me. ‘Hey, what are you doing? Girls don’t play football,’” Nnadozie recalls him saying.

“Everything changed for him when he saw me playing with the national team. Now he’s my No. 1 supporter and encourages girls to take up soccer.”

She grew up in an environment steeped in the sport: “Nobody was a professional, but my father played, my brothers played and even my older sister played.” 

While Nnadozie had sometimes imagined becoming an accountant, her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school. “I saw girls playing football and making a living from it. I had a bit of talent, so I told myself I’d give it until I was 20 to see if I could break through.”

While she loved playing on the pitch, it was as goalkeeper that she set herself apart. She found herself between the goal posts after her team’s goalkeeper was injured. Her coach saw her immense potential right from the warm-up and gave her an ultimatum: become a goalkeeper – or leave the team. 

“I wanted to play in the field. I refused and went to another academy, but they asked me for money to play. So I had no choice but to come back and become a goalkeeper. And today, I just want to thank Coach Alex for seeing that in me,” she says.

“Sometimes, what’s meant to be is meant to be.”

The rest unfolded like a fairytale. She was spotted at the age of 16 by the Rivers Angels FC, based in the Nigerian state of Rivers, at a scouting tournament for which she won the title of best goalkeeper. The coach and president approached her and offered her a contract.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she recalls.

Paris and the Olympic dream

Eight years on, Nnadozie is hungry for more – and she isn’t afraid to dream big.

“I want to win the Women’s Champions League with Paris FC and I want us to win the championship. I want to win the World Cup with my country,” she says.

“The Olympics is also an experience I want to have. It’s very special.”

A Nigerian team hasn’t played in the Olympics since the 2008 Games in Beijing – which Nnadozie doesn’t remember watching. In the current squad, only the experienced 36-year-old Tochukwu Oluehi, also a goalkeeper, has played at the Olympic level.

And Oluehi is passing on her aspirations to those following in her footsteps. 

“I love how she talks to us about it, the advice she gives us and how insistent she is in telling us that it’s important to qualify for the Games. We’re a new generation. We have a lot of talented young players. We have ambition and a great state of mind. We can do it,” Nnadozie says.

She hopes the Super Falcons will be able to emulate the triumph of the Super Eagles, the Nigerian men’s team, who in 1996 became Africa’s first Olympic champions by winning gold. If Nnadozie’s enthusiasm and confidence are any indication, Nigeria may even be ready to challenge the US or Canadian teams that have dominated women’s football in recent years.

This has been translated from the original in French.

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