INI UMOTONG has described pledging her international allegiance to Nigeria as a ‘no-brainer’ and thanked Pompey Ladies for providing her with the platform to live out her World Cup dream.
The 21-year-old striker was an unused substitute as the Super Falcons got their tournament campaign off to an impressive start in Canada last night – battling back from a two-goal half-time deficit to earn a thrilling 3-3 draw with Sweden.
England’s women’s team get underway this evening against France (6pm) and Umotong, who was called up to a training camp with the Three Lionesses as a 15-year-old, has admitted it would be ‘awesome’ to face the nation she always thought would grant her the opportunity to play international football.
But the prolific striker, who bagged 29 league and cup goals to help fire the Blues to the Premier League southern division title, has no regrets that the African champions secured her services first.
Having moved to the UK from Nigeria as a baby, Umotong was always aware that she may one day be presented with the chance to represent her home nation.
Circumstances appeared to make England the most likely suitor but owing to an impressive season on the south coast, Umotong – who is only one of two English-based players in the Nigeria squad – became impossible for the West Africans to ignore.
She said: ‘I went to an England Youth camp at under-15s.
‘Even then, I always knew in the back of my head that I could possibly play for Nigeria.
‘But I always thought, because I had been given an opportunity with England Youth, that if I was to get an international call-up it would have been with England.
‘Nigeria was a shock.
‘I am also a student, so I had to see how much it (being called up to Nigeria) would be interfering with my studies and travelling.
‘But it wasn’t too hard of a decision – when the Super Falcons call you up it is a no-brainer really!
‘That said, it would be so cool if we were to get out of the group stage and face England later on in the World Cup – it would be awesome.’
In what has proven to be a whirlwind 2015, Umotong became the first Pompey Ladies player to be capped at international level in Nigeria’s All-Africa Games qualifier with Mali in March.
And the humble talent has paid tribute to the Blues for affording her the opportunity to grace the big stage.
She said: ‘My season at Pompey definitely helped me gain the recognition to be able to get the call-up.
‘I owe my coaches and team-mates a lot.
‘It’s because of them I fit in so well with the team and that is why I did so well.
‘At Pompey I feel at home.
‘If I didn’t have that then there is no way I would have done so well, and there is no way I would have been on the coach’s (Nigeria boss Edwin Okon) radar in the first place, so I owe them a lot.’
– JEFF MARSHMAN