Maryann Ezenagu, the determined Rivers Angels' poster girl

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"When I was with CI Angels, I was invited to the Super Falcons. I didn't even honour the call-up then because I was scared and felt I was too young," Maryann Ezenagu opened up to on rejecting the call to Nigeria's senior team in April 2013.

This came in the build-up to Nigeria's friendly with Japan just a few days after the unheralded young sensation starred as CI Angels forced Rivers Angels to a 2-2 draw in a 2013 Nigerian Women's Premier League encounter in Asaba.

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Born in Asaba to Igbo parents of South-East state Anambra, Ezenagu, who is the last born in the family of nine, endured regular torture from her father during her early teenage years in resolving to realise her dreams through the sport.

"I started playing while in secondary school (Asaba Girls Grammar School) then. My dad didn't want me to play football because he felt I was doing what only boys should do as a girl. He often beat me anytime I come back home from playing then," she narrated.

"While training with the boys, a coach took me to CI Angels after I had finished my secondary school which was when my dad finally allowed me to play. I think he was concerned about my education and while at Delta Queens, I continued at Delta Polytechnic. Now, my dad has been supportive and always calls me to check up on me."

"Finishing as the top scorer of the [WAFU B] zone and also winning the Player of the Match three times really got me a lot of fans and made me popular." Maryann Ezenagu

Ezenagu began her long journey on the streets of Asaba, the capital city of Delta state in South-south Nigeria just as some female stars started competing with the boys.

From the streets, Agbor based Nigerian side CI Angels snapped up the hot- prospect before her exploits in 2014 paved the way for her switch to Delta Queens, where she spent six years, during which she played for Nigeria at the 2016 U17 Women's World Cup.

In 2020, she ended her journey with Delta Queens, teaming up with Rivers Angels and went on to inspire them to a seventh Nigerian title in her first season in April 2021.

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The 20-year-old's on-the-pitch breakthrough is an unpopular fairytale even she couldn't have dreamt of, savouring her first ever career title with Rivers.

"I am very happy been here in Rivers Angels. Before coming here, I had an offer to join Bayelsa Queens - another good club but I decided on Rivers. I am a disciplined player and wanted a club where I could be more discipline," she told about her switch to the Port Harcourt outfit.

"Coming to Rivers was a dream come true. It was not easy for us, especially at the Nigerian League Super Six in Ijebu Ode. We drew our first game, and I was troubled over why I would have come to Rivers and still end up not winning a title.

"I didn't give up and with the top players in the team, we motivated ourselves to win the remaining games and won the title. I felt it's a blessing for me to play for Rivers."

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The attacking midfielder shone brightly at the CAF WAFU-B Women's Champions League qualifiers in Abidjan where she scored seven goals and also won the Player-of-the-Match thrice. Despite her fine form, the Nigerian champions finished as runners-up to clinch a ticket to Egypt and she recounted her memories and achievements.

"I always put in the same energy in training against opponents during matches. During the tournament (in Abidjan), I got my goals very easily with the same discipline on the pitch," she said.

"I can't forget the experience of playing in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire because, during the matches, I hear fans screaming my name and also got a lot of cash gifts after each match. Finishing as the top scorer of the zone and also winning the Player of the Match three times really got me a lot of fans and made me popular."

“Going to Egypt, personally I will not lower my guard. I promise to do more to help my team. I strongly believe my best is yet to come and will surely be seen in Egypt." Maryann Ezenagu

Reflecting on a 3-1 final loss to Ghana's Hasaacas Ladies, she revealed secrets behind her poor display and their unfortunate ending to the regional tournament.

"We defeated them in the group stage, but we thought we were used to them and know their pattern but they scored us very early and we struggled to equalize during the first half," she explained.

"I got injured five minutes into the game, and that destabilized me because I couldn't play. I called to be replaced, but they asked me to just manage. Obviously, I was not playing. I felt it was gameplay by our opponents to take me out of the match.

"I think that affected the team and this weighed everyone on the team down. We felt very bad as a team to have lost the trophy to Hasaacas Ladies. Our consolation was getting a ticket to the finals in Egypt."

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In Benin City, Rivers Angels suffered another final heartbreak at the Betsy Obaseki Cup, where they lost 4-3 on penalties to Bayelsa Queens and Ezenagu couldn't hide her pains from their back-to-back finals' defeats but is still upbeat about their chances at the TotalEnergies CAF Women's Champions League.

"I was disappointed honestly losing two finals in the space of four months. I just think maybe it was destined to happen. I felt very bad losing the final on penalties. Although had joy when I was given the Most Valuable Player of the tournament," she admitted.

"Even though we lost, we played against strong teams and I believe these matches were a good test to toughen us. We can't afford to lose another final. As a team, we must play out our hearts and give whatever it takes to make the country proud. It will not be easy for us, but I believe we will bring home the trophy.

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“Going to Egypt, personally I will not lower my guard. I promise to do more to help my team. I strongly believe my best is yet to come and will surely be seen in Egypt."

Ezenagu and Rivers Angels will aim for a winning start against AS FAR of Morocco on November 6 and battle Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa three days later before taking on Vihiga Queens of Kenya on November 12. 2021.