Ini Umotong’s World Cup prospects rest largely on what she has already achieved in her brief spell with the Nigeria national squad after being forced to miss her country’s next three crucial qualifying matches because of commitments in England.
The 21-goal Portsmouth striker played 33 minutes of the first leg of Nigeria’s All-Africa Games qualifier against Mali last week after appearing twice in friendlies against Nigerian club sides.
But the 20-year-old will have no chance of adding to her initial impact in the second leg against Mali – plus two Olympic Games qualifiers against the same country – over the next few weeks because she has returned to England to resume her studies at Southampton University.
However, she will still have the opportunity to impress boss Edwin Okon from a distance – as she did in earning her initial call-up – in Portsmouth’s crucial Premier League run-in.
But it means a nail-biting few weeks for the young striker as Okon decides on his squad for the World Cup in Canada, which starts in June.
Umotong told Sent Her Forward: “I flew home on Tuesday because of university commitments and Pompey, so I told the coach that I’m unavailable until May now.
“The next step is to keep in form with Pompey and just wait and hope that I make the team for the World Cup.”
Nigerian-born Umotong, who moved to England when she was a year old, came to Okon’s attention after her mid-season scoring streak for Pompey, during which she scored 21 goals over 12 consecutive games – including four hat-tricks – although only five of her haul have been in league matches.
She joined Nigeria’s four-week training camp midway through after sorting out university work and squeezing in two more Pompey appearances – although ironically, scoring in neither.
And she made a big impact in Africa, netting in a 20-minute cameo against Nigerian Premier League club Confluence Queens and then again in another substitute’s appearance against Spotlight Queens.
She made her international debut last Saturday in Nigeria’s 1-1 draw in Mali, again from the bench.
Umotong was the only foreign-based player to make the 18-player squad that Okon took to Mali, but it remains to be seen whether she has done enough to be on the plane for Canada in June.
In the meantime, she is set to rejoin Portsmouth’s push for the Premier League title – and a shot at the Super League – starting on Sunday, when they host Plymouth Argyle.
Pompey are currently second on goal difference, with a game in hand of leaders Cardiff City, and eight matches – plus the Hampshire County Cup final – still to play.