Already something of a seasoned international at the ripe old age of 18, Nigeria’s Ebere Orji is nonetheless one of the up-and-coming stars to watch at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany this summer. Having burst onto the scene in 2008 at both the U-17 and U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cups, she confirmed her promise two years later as part of the high-flying Nigerian attack that powered the Falconets to a spot in the U-20 final.
Orji was on the shortlist for adidas Golden Ball as one of the players of the tournament, and her team’s exploits have given momentum to the whole of Nigerian women’s football. A triumph in the CAF Africa Women’s Championship has helped spirits stay high even in the face of a tough senior World Cup draw, where the west Africans are to line up against Germany, Canada and France.
Orji, the fifth out of seven children in a football-playing family, shares a sense of confidence with a young Super Falcons team that might carry into the showpiece of women's soccer.
You were a member of the Falconets who played against Germany in the final of the 2010 FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup in Germany. What is your target as a Super Falcon in the Women’s World Cup also in Germany this June?
My target in Germany this time around is to reach the final of the competition, so that we can make history again as the first African country to play in the final of such a competition of that magnitude.
Nigerians were not happy that the Super Falcons succumbed 8-0 to Germany in a friendly match last year. Are you and your colleagues ready to correct that impression and bounce back at the World Cup, where you are again drawn against the Germans?
Definitely! We are going to correct that mistake and impression. A lot of things contributed to that loss. The weather really affected us because it was freezing cold and many of us were not used to such unfriendly weather. So nobody can blame the team or our coaches for the result. If you watched our matches in the African Women’s Championship in South Africa, you saw that we played better. The weather was not really in our favour. We were not used to it.
Sincerely speaking, what kind of success in Germany would make you satisfied?
I am sure that firstly we will come out of that group. We don’t fear any team in our group, be it Germany, France or Canada. We’re ready to take on any team. We are not scared despite the fact that some people call it ‘group of death’. We have confidence we can book the ticket to the next round of the competition, and then from there anything can happen.
If not for football what would Ebere Orji have been doing?
(Laughs) I would have been studying to become an accountant because I like the course so much anyway. But I am still grateful to God that football has given me fame and honour, and I am still working hard to achieve more success in the game in the nearest future.
Your best and worst moments in football?
I will start with the bad moment, and that was the day my team lost [3-2 in the quarter-finals] against France in Chile at the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup. That was my first time of playing at a World Cup. My happiest moment was reaching the final of the same competition last year and losing to Germany the eventual winner in an exciting final. Being a member of the Nigerian national team that made history as the first African country to reach the final of any organised female World Cup will continue to be my best moment for a long time to come – although I am also looking forward to helping the Super Falcons to repeat this feat again in Germany this year, but this time around at the senior Women’s World Cup.
How did your parents celebrate your feat of playing in the final of the U-20 Women’s World Cup last year?
I would say it was with mixed feelings because there was little sadness as that was the time I lost my dad. But I still thank God for everything because happiness returned to my family through my exploits in the World Cup. It was able to wipe away the sorrow caused by the death of my father.
Will you encourage your children to play football in the future if you get married?
Definitely I will encourage them, be it a boy or girl. As far as he or she has the interest to play, I will surely encourage them. But I will also encourage them to go to school, too, because this will also help them in the game.