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Nigerian 'twin sisters' eye maiden Champions League ticket in Sweden

12:46 GMT+3 19/10/2019
Ngozi Okobi - Eskilstuna United
Ngozi Okobi and Halimatu Ayinde are joining forces to ensure Eskilstuna United compete for the first time in the European competition

Ngozi Okobi and Halimatu Ayinde see themselves as "twin sisters" helping each other adapting to life at Eskilstuna United while teaming up to qualify for the Women's Champions League.

The Nigerians are instrumental to the European qualification ambition of Swedish Damallsvenskan team Eskilstuna United, with Okobi and Ayinde pulling the strings in midfield.

Okobi, who moved to Sweden from United States' Washington Spirit in 2016, scored three times in her 38 outings for Vittsjo before later joining Eskilstuna two years later, with two goals in 39 games.

And the 25-year-old, who married real estate mogul Ahmed Okeoghene in 2018, admitted she took many risks to come this far with almost no support from her parent while starting her career.

"I must admit growing up was tough but never knew I'll get this far in my career," Okobi, who was raised in the city of Warri told Goal.

"I did not get much support especially from my dad and had to take so many risks that have actually brought me this far."

In April 2019, Okobi reunited with her friend and national teammate Ayinde after the latter was snapped up by Eskilstuna.

The duo is heavily leaned to each other since their first meeting in the Flamingoes' build-up to 2010 U17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand before being united by club side Delta Queens.

Being fondly called 'twin sisters' with nine-years of friendship, Okobi admits they have since become the best of friends from the youth to the senior team, celebrating three African titles together.

"We initially met in 2010 during our preparation for the U17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand, which was my second and last outing at that level," said the former Washington Spirit player.

"Then, we were not as friends but as teammates. Finally, we had another opportunity to play with her in Delta Queens not just as a teammate but friends and now the best of friends."

On convincing Ayinde to join Eskilstuna United, Okobi who is helping her friend acclimatise off the pitch, revealed why she brought in her Nigerian compatriot from Elitettan side Asarum.

"It wasn't difficult. I knew her quality wasn't for a lower division. I just did the needful by convincing my team," she said.

"I also feel having a friend or someone who speaks and understands the same language is an edge for me.

"Being together in this team has helped us a lot, mentally and physically. This is because we're always there for each other. It is also rubbing off positively on the team."

After scoring her first goal of the season last week, the Warri-born star is confident they can inspire the team to a maiden European club competition next season with their fine form.

"We strongly believe in ourselves. My hard work, especially with my friend Halima, can see achieving the impossible this season.

"We are not just hoping to win games, but [what is] very important is taking my team up in the table. We're so ready to give out all we've got."

On her part, Ayinde arrived in Sweden last year after stints in several countries including the United States and Belarus.

She was initially captured by second-tier side Asarum before later joining compatriot Okobi at Tunavallen in April this year, the two reuniting after playing together for Delta Queens for three years.

The 24-year-old, who was raised in the northern city of Kaduna by an Igbo-mother and Yoruba-father, shared how her determination to play football broke the resolve of her parents at a young age.

"It was tough for me because my parents didn't want me to play, they preferred I further my education," Ayinde told Goal.

"It got to a time they noticed the passion for the game was much so they allowed me to pursue my dream."

In sync with Okobi, the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria ambassador narrated how they first met and eventually reunited in Sweden earlier this year and also adapting to life at Eskilstuna.

"We first met in camp for the 2010 U17 Women's World Cup, though we were not close then. We became friends when I joined Delta Queens where I met her again. And we became even more like twin sisters and that's how it has been until this date."

"About joining Okobi at Eskilstuna United, it was an easy move for me because I had wanted to leave Asarum to another club which she knew about then.

"She said to me, come to Eskilstuna United and play good football. I was happy because I was coming to play alongside my sister. Our friendship has really helped us on and off the pitch, physically, mentally and psychologically.

"From the start, it was hard to figure out what the problem was not until after the Women's World Cup. We started getting it right as a team and saw us move up to fourth position on the table."

Despite facing a rough start to life, the Kaduna YSFON product reflected on her progress so far at Eskilstuna after bagging the Player of the Match award in a 1-0 over Limhamn Bunkeflo last week.

She also amplified the aspiration of Okobi on their mission to put the Swedish Damallsvenskan outfit on the European map next season.

"It means there was a huge improvement in the way I play and I want to continue working hard and improve in every game," she continued.

"For us, the main target right now is to work together more than ever to help the team secure a first-ever Champions League ticket. We have just two games left now and we will just try and get the six points and see how everything ends."

Okobi and Ayinde will hope to maintain their performances as Eskilstuna and continue to pursue their Champions League aspirations this season against Kristianstad on Saturday.