Barcelona, Nigeria forward Asisat Oshoala ruled out of Africa Women Cup of Nations through injury

Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala has been ruled out of the 2022 CAF Africa Women Cup of Nations after suffering an injury in Nigeria's opening game against South Africa.

Nigeria, the defending champions, lost their second consecutive opening game of the tournament to the same opposition, with Oshoala peripheral in a largely flat Nigeria performance.

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Ademola Olajire, the Nigeria Football Federation's director of communications, said the striker would be out for at least four weeks.

"The team's medical crew declared on Wednesday that Oshoala sustained a Grade 2 Medial Ligament strain, and would be out of action for between two and three weeks, with another one or two weeks period for recovery," Olajire said.

The current African Player of the Year suffered the injury within the opening six minutes, when she was caught in a tackle with a Banyana Banyana defender, and needed heavy strapping to continue. But she hobbled on for the next 76 minutes until she went down on her own in the box before being subbed off with eight minutes of play left.

Olajire says the forward is leaving for Spain on Thursday to get treatment for the injury.

"Medics at her club, FC Barcelona Feminine, advised that she return to Spain," he told ESPN.

Oshoala's injury is a blow for Nigeria who were looking to the four-time Africa Women's Player of the Year to spearhead their quest for a fourth title on the bounce and a 10th overall.

Her absence is a further complication ahead of Thursday's match against group leaders Botswana, when Nigeria will aim to get their campaign back on track. The Super Falcons were already shorthanded after losing Real Madrid star Chidinma Okeke just before the start of the tournament.

Coach Randy Waldrum is left with 24 players and four forwards for the remainder of the competition. He will now look to Ifeoma Onumonu, Rasheedat Ajibade, Monday Gift and Uchenna Kanu to propel the team to victory against Botswana, who beat Burundi 4-2 on Monday night to claim group leadership.

Despite the setback, captain Onome Ebi says the team is confident of victory on Thursday and through to the rest of the competition

"We feel bad to have lost the opening match, and against South Africa for that matter," she said. "But we have been able to put that behind us. We resolved immediately after the match that we will give what it takes to win all remaining games. "There is no need for too many words. All we want to do is get the win against Botswana to restore our confidence, and then we can take things from there."

There is some good news for Waldrum to offset the gloom of Oshoala's departure.

First-choice goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, who missed the opening game to suspension, returns against the Botswanans and the forced departure of Asisat Oshoala means the vibrant Gift Monday or Mexico-based Uchenna Kanu will start up front for the nine-time champions.

Monday is the top scorer in the Nigeria women's league and showed her quality during the Aisha Buhari Cup where she scored twice. On Wednesday, she was named on the shortlist for the CAF Player of the Year Awards.

Nnadozie's return aside, Waldrum could also ring some changes in other areas. Defender Glory Ogbonna is likely to take her place at left-back to allow the energetic Ashleigh Plumptre return to her accustomed role at centre-back next to captain Ebi, with Osinachi Ohale moving to right back to allow Michelle Alozie more freedom to roam further afield.

With a World Cup ticket also at stake, victory on Thursday should calm Nigerian nerves and allow the Falcons to look forward to Sunday's encounter against Burundi with much confidence.