While most of us have spent the last few weeks soaking up the sun and binge-watching prison dramas, Southampton student Ini Umotong has been mixing it with the very best at the Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Umotong’s much-vaunted Nigeria were eliminated in the Group Stage in the early hours of this morning in a spirited 1-0 defeat to USA, following a 3-3 draw against Sweden and a 2-0 defeat to Australia, meaning the tournament passed without an appearance from Southampton’s fledgling international star.
The group, containing some of the most experienced and promising teams in Women’s football, was widely labelled the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’, and although Nigeria were knocked out with just one point, their brand of “speedy” counterattacking football has been praised despite occasional defensive lapses costing them results.
Despite this, Umotong remained upbeat about the experience, telling the Soton Tab:
It’s an incredible experience, definitely the biggest thing I’ve done so far in my life. It’s a great learning curve for me especially because I’m still pretty young.
On whether she was personally disappointed with the results, she added:
Even though we didn’t qualify and I didn’t play this time around, I’m still incredible grateful that I have the experience which I’ll be looking to put towards future tournaments.
Despite her young age consigning her to backup duty for Nigeria, she starred domestically for Portsmouth Ladies last season, scoring an explosive 29 goals in 15 starts, with 10 further substitute appearances, spurring the team towards winning the Women’s Premier League Southern Division.
Amazingly, she achieved this alongside studying Economics at Southampton. Following her call-up to the World Cup Squad, the Head of the Economics Department Jean-Yves Pitarakis called it a “remarkable achievement” to balance the two. Umotongo herself is more reserved on the difficulties:
It can get a little hard sometimes, especially around exams period, but I’ve been playing since I was young, so juggling both sporting and academic commitments is almost like second nature to me. The biggest compromise would probably be nights out, but for me it’s definitely worth it.
She made her Nigeria debut in March, in a 1-1 draw against Mali in the qualifying rounds of the All-African Games.
At the time she described accepting that call as a “no-brainer”; but there may have been more sleepless nights over the decision than she let on, as she was also eligible to play for England, who are currently sixth in the FIFA rankings, 17 places above Nigeria in 33rd.
She explained her decision as simply a matter of timing:
They called first. When the Superfalcons calls you up for a World Cup, it’s not something you turn down.
Despite Nigeria’s disappointing results and failure to progress to the knockout rounds, they will head into the future brimming with confidence as their talented squad gains experience against the elite in Women’s Football.
If her optimism is anything to go by, Ini Umotong seems to have a similarly bright future.
What do you think of the Women’s World Cup so far? Let us know in the comments!