Blessing Akusobi was among the brightest stars in the Nigerian team at the Russia 2006 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Before she made the trip to Russia, Akusobi’s dream was to become one of the best defenders at the senior level. But her aspiration suffered a big blow during a quarterfinal match against Brazil, where she had a ligament injury. The Falconets returned home after losing 1-2 to Brazil, but for Akusobi, it was an end to a lofty career dream.
At the World Cup, Akusobi, a defender, played alongside the current goalkeeper of the Super Falcons, Tochukwu Oluehi, as well as defender Faith Ikidi and midfielder Rita Chikwelu. Other members of the team to Russia 2006 then were Akudo Sabi, Maureen Eke, Akudo Iwuagwu, Uluoma Jerome, Cynthia Uwak, Tawa Ishola, Gladys Akpa and Chizoma Oparaocha.
With the trio of Oluehi, Ikidi and Chikwelu now preparing to adorn the nation’s green white green shirt for the Super Falcons at France 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup this June, Akusobi is restricted to a particular place in the Aguda area of Lagos, as a result of the ligament injury she suffered back then. She is full of regrets.
“I am still in pain till this moment,” Akusobi told The Guardian yesterday. “And I regret representing Nigeria at that World Cup.”
Before she made it to the national U-20 team in 2006, Akusobi was among the hottest players in the local scene, with clubs falling over themselves to get her signature. Akusobi represented Lagos State at the Abuja 2004 National Sport Festival, where she helped the squad to capture a bronze medal in female football event.
Despite not winning the gold medal in Abuja, Akusobi’s exploits as a dependable guard soon attracted female football coaches from different parts of the country, but it was Pelican Stars of Calabar that got her service in 2005. She assisted the club to win the National league title that year, and in 2006, the management of Bayelsa Queens of Yenagoa secured her service in one of the most celebrated movement of players in the history of Nigerian women football league.
Akusobi shone in the defence of Bayelsa Queen hence her invitation to the camp of the National U-20 team for the World Cup in Russia. And at the Mundial in Russia, Akusobi provided cover for goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi in their first match against Canada, which Nigeria won 3-2. The junior team then lost 0-3 to China PR in the second group match, but recovered to thrash Finland 8-0 in their third group match to seal into the quarterfinal.
The Falconets were in full command of the quarterfinal game against Brazil at the Torpedo Stadium in Moscow after Cynthia Uwak equalised for the country midway into the second half. With the score line at 1-1, Akusobi had a Brazilian attacker to contend with in the Nigeria’s defence. It was an aerial ball that required a header from both players. They both went up for it and in the process the Brazilian landed on Akusobi’s left leg.
While the Brazilian walked away unharmed, Akusobi rolled on the ground, reeling from the pain. The effect of the injury was a torn ligament, and so, the rock solid defender of the Falconets’ had to be substituted. The Nigerian team managed to wade off the rampaging Brazilians, but Akusobi’s absence finally showed as they eventually caved in, conceding a dying minute goal to wave goodbye to the World Cup.
Back from Russia, the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) took Akusobi to Germany for an operation, but the problem reoccurred immediately she returned to Nigeria.
Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Akusobi recalled with nostalgia: “There was nothing I did not do to correct it, but I ended up spending the little resources I made from club football. At a point, I went to the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital (UCH), where I met one Dr. Alonge. He told me that I needed the sum of N500, 000 for an operation if I wanted to play football again. When I came back to discuss with officials of the then NFA, they kept promising of assistance, but at the end nothing came from them.
“I even went to the office of former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola at a point, looking for help because I represented the state at Abuja 2004 National Sports Festival. There was no help from there either. I was making all efforts so that I could return to football. Till this moment, I always feel sad whenever I see my former teammates playing for the Super Falcons. I gave my best to my fatherland, but I was abandoned to my fate at the end,” she lamented.
Akusobi is from a family of seven children, but she is the oldest. “We lost our father in 1996, and our mother died in 2000. The entire load of the family was on my head. Before I sustained the injury in 2006, I was still coping with the little resources I made from club football. But everything went bad from that moment, and there is nowhere to run to. It got to a stage when I could barely manage to feed myself let alone render help to my younger ones in the family.
“Till today, I can’t rest the leg on a particular spot for more than 30 minutes. The pain is terrible. And I don’t know anybody in this present NFF to meet for any form of assistance. As I said earlier, I am full of regrets going to that World Cup in Russia,” Akusbi stated.