Desire Oparanozie spends a lot of time off the ground, as is only to be expected of one of the best headers of the ball at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2012.
And no matter how much the Nigeria attacker is buffeted by opposition defenders or how acrobatically she tries to reach the ball, she always manages to land on her feet.
She also manages to keep her feet firmly on the ground metaphorically, a useful trait when she has to deal with disappointment, such as in the recent quarter-final against Mexico.
“I missed a hatful of chances. I know I did, and I’m really annoyed with myself,” she said. “I needed to score to know that all my hard work was actually worth something and that I’d contributed something to the team.
“At the end of the day if I’ve created a lot of chances for myself and we lose, I don’t feel like I’ve helped the team – the opposite in fact.”
Despite being her own harshest critic, the centre-forward certainly did help her team against Mexico. Her extra-time goal, which as you would expect came from a header, sent the Falconets into the semi-finals, where they will take on USA, as well as repaying the faith shown in her by the rest of the Nigerian camp.
“I felt under a certain amount of pressure, but it was of my own making – no-one else was putting any pressure on me,” said the striker, who grew up idolising local legend Mercy Akide and who now admires Abby Wambach and Wayne Rooney.
“When I missed those chances and when I made a few wrong decisions, the coach and my team-mates kept telling me to keep my chin up, to put it behind me and that the next chance would come along soon. When the ball finally went in, I could hardly believe it! The goal was just reward for their encouragement because it got them into the semi-final.”