Nigeria was an early breaker of ground in the continent in terms of women football and one of pioneer women at the forefront of that seeding and growth was ‘Marvellous’ Mercy Akide, a powerful, exciting player who proved to a skeptical Nigerian public that women could play an entertaining brand of football and compete against the world’s best.
She also signaled to the world that Africa could be a hotbed of women’s talent. Akide was named by CAF as the first African Women’s Footballer of the Year in 2002 and was the speedy attacking tip of an offensive-minded Super Falcons side that made a gradually greater impact at the FIFA Women’s World Cup through the 1990s.
All told, Akide played in three Women’s World Cups, scoring two goals in eight matches. Although she appeared at Sweden 1995 in one contest, it was at USA 1999 that she really burst onto the international scene. It was there that she opened the scoring for the Falcons in their two wins – their first at the mundial – and played a big part in one of the greatest matches in the history of the event: a 4-3 Brazilian victory over Nigeria in the quarter-finals that saw the Africans come from three goals behind only to fall in extra time after being reduced to ten players.
Although the 2003 Women’s World Cup was a disappointment for the Nigerians, Akide again captured the public imagination over two Olympic Football Tournaments, scoring four of six total goals by the team at the 2000 and 2004 Olympiads. She also led the team to three African championships.
Such were her performances that Akide broke more ground, becoming the first African to play in the high-profile but now-defunct WUSA during its inaugural season. She stayed in the United States to coach and was appointed an Ambassador for Women’s Football by FIFA in 2005. Active in teaching and helping to place young players in development situations, Akide has continued to be an inspirational light in women’s football in both her home and adopted country.