Prolific Asisat Oshoala returns to summit of African women's rankings

Asisat Oshoala was back to imperious form in March, including scoring against Manchester City in the Women's Champions League. Valerio Pennicino - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Barcelona striker Asisat Oshoala blew hot and cold in February, but March was a successful month even by Barca standards and the Nigerian played a central role in their success.

Thembi Kgatlana and Ajara Nchout are ever-present, and there is greater recognition for the likes of Rita Chikwelu and Refiloe Jane -- players who might not make the headlines as much as their attacking counterparts, but nevertheless play important roles for Madrid CFF and AC Milan respectively.

April will see the return of many important tournaments, with the National Women's Super League [NWSL] and Sweden's Damallsvenskan among them. Oour rankings will be more competitive than ever during the coming months.

1. Asisat Oshoala, Barcelona

In fairness to the Super Falcons attacker's contenders for top spot, not many have the luxury of playing in a team as dominant as Barcelona. Her goals in the 5-0 drubbing of Valencia and the 4-0 rout of Rayo Vallecano were hardly desperately needed.

However, although they have had one hand on the Primera Iberdrola title since the start of the season, Barcelona were by no means guaranteed a smooth ride against Fortuna Hjørring -- and even less so Manchester City -- in the UEFA Women's Champions League.

Nevertheless, Oshoala's goal helped them beat the former 5-0 in the second leg of their round of 16 tie and 9-0 on aggregate.

In the first leg of their quarter-final against City, Oshoala was in blistering form. She saw an early close-range effort well saved by Ellie Roebuck, but then beat the City goalkeeper from just outside the box with a thunderous strike which crashed in off the post.

Having scored the opener, Oshoala won the penalty which Mariona Caldentey converted for Barcelona's second goal in a 3-0 win.

In the second leg on 31 March, City took the lead in the 20th minute through Janine Beckie, but Oshoala took the wind out of their sails with her darting runs in behind the defence. Eventually, she profited from a cut-back and levelled the scores in the 59th minute.

A Sam Mewis spot-kick nine minutes later proved to be in vain as Barcelona booked their semi-final spot 4-2 on aggregate, with Oshoala's goals the difference between the sides.

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2. Rita Chikwelu, Madrid CFF

Chikwelu has gone about her business without much fuss in the middle of the park for Madrid CFF. March was another excellent month for the team, as they extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches -- nine wins and two draws.

Hailed by coach Óscar Fernández in an interview with Goal as "one of the most important players in the squad, both on and off the field," Chikwelu has played in 21 of Madrid's 23 Primera Iberdrola this matches, scoring in a 2-1 win over Real Betis in January.

As a regular starter, she deserves credit for her consistency -- which is all one could ask of an anchoring midfielder.

3. Osinachi Ohale, Madrid CFF

Experienced Nigeria defender Ohale has begun to stake her claim as a regular in the same Madrid side which Chikwelu is excelling in. After the team started the month off with a 2-2 draw to Logroño, she was elevated to the starting line-up alongside Brazil's Mônica at centre-back.

Madrid subsequently tightened up defensively, beating Eibar 3-1 and then keeping clean sheets in the 3-0 win over Santa Teresa and the 1-0 triumph over Sporting de Huelva.

Ohale joined Madrid from AS Roma, having struggled for playing time there. The former Houston Dash defender's return to her best form has been gradual, but noteworthy nevertheless.

4. Refiloe Jane, AC Milan

March has been a mixed month for AC Milan and their midfield maestro, Banyana Banyana's Refiloe Jane. However, it ended off on a high in a 4-1 derby thrashing of Inter Milan, in which Jane started.

Earlier in the month, Milan were without Jane when they lost ground in the Serie A Women's title race to leaders Juventus, going down 4-0 when the teams met. Juve have won all 17 of their matches this season, while Milan have won 15 and lost only the two they have played against the league leaders.

To make matters worse, Milan lost 2-1 in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter, with the second still to be played in April. However, with Jane starting, they bounced back with a 1-0 win over Empoli.

The Rossonere could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when they conceded early in the league encounter against Inter on 28 March, as they had done in their cup game. However, in the 16th minute, Jane's fierce long-range strike was parried into the path of Valentina Giacinti, who headed home for Milan.

Jane continued to dictate the game from midfield as Giacinti netted three more times to seal a comfortable win for Milan, sending a clear statement of intent ahead of the cup rematch.

5. Gabrielle Onguéné, CSKA Moscow

Onguéné was on target twice for CSKA Moscow in a 7-0 drubbing of Rubin Kazan and again in a 4-0 thrashing of Krasnodar to round off the month of March on a high.

The Cameroon striker, who was included in the Russian Women's Premier League Team of the Season after helping CSKA win the title in 2020, failed to find the net in the 1-0 Super Cup defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow and the 0-0 league draw to Rostov.

However, although she did not come flying out the blocks, the veteran striker soon hit her stride. Having made the IFFHS CAF Women's Team of the Decade for the years 2011-2020, Onguéné still shows no sign of letting up.

6. Zenatha Coleman, Sevilla

After an injury-ridden start to 2021, Coleman had a productive month in March, with her goal and assist salvaging a point for Sevilla in a 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad, which saw them twice come from behind.

Coleman, who in January told ESPN that she was desperate to score more regularly for Sevilla, has so far made good on her pledge since that interview.

Having scored to help Sevilla avoid a shock defeat in the 1-1 home draw to Santa Teresa on 30 January, Coleman was once again the star of the show against Sociedad.

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Sevilla fell behind in the 26th minute, but responded immediately. Coleman took out two defenders in one fell swoop as she embarked on a marauding run down the left flank before cutting back from near the byline. The ball was cleared back to her, but on the second attempt, she picked out Claudia Pina, who stroked home.

Just before the hour mark, the Namibia captain was played in behind and once again danced her way through a last-ditch attempt to dispossess her before bagging the equaliser yet again.

March also saw Sevilla beat Valencia 2-1, draw 0-0 with Logroño, and lose 4-0 to runaway leaders Barcelona.

7. Thembi Kgatlana, SD Eibar

Kgatlana was in fine form throughout January and February despite Eibar's rocky run of results. In March, she hit a snag, although she still scored her team's only goal of the month in a 3-1 defeat to Madrid CFF.

It is difficult to fault Kgatlana for not being among the goals constantly, in a struggling side where service is limited. With a total of 10 league goals in the bag already this season, she has certainly earned the right to have some leeway.

However, having topped our rankings last month, Kgatlana drops to seventh as a result of scoring only once in four matches in March.

Eibar sit 13th in the Primera Iberdrola and will lean heavily on Kgatlana in their bid to avoid the drop zone.

8. Desire Oparanozie, Dijon

March was a difficult month for Dijon and they can be forgiven for losing 2-0 to Bordeaux, who sit third in the French Feminine Division 1, and 3-0 to Olympique Lyon, the defending champions of Europe.

However, in between those two results was a 3-1 win over Fleury 91 in which Nigeria's Oparanozie was on the scoresheet.

The striker, who was controversially left out of the Super Falcons squad for the Turkish Women's Cup, profited from Mylaine Tarrieu's assist to level the scores in the 67th minute after Dijon had fallen behind to Dominika Grabowska's opener in the 34th. Ophélie Cuynet and Léa Khelifi then scored in stoppage time to seal the three points for Dijon.

9. Ajara Nchout, Atlético Madrid

Ncout was on target for Atlético in a 4-0 drubbing of Real Betis, but she was unable to find the back of the net or help save her team from a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Chelsea in the UEFA Women's Champions League round of 16.

Atlético struggled to find their feet towards the end of the month, suffering 1-0 defeats to Real Madrid and Sporting de Huelva, and drawing 0-0 to Valencia, who they had beaten 4-1 as recently as Valentine's Day.

It has been a mixed start for the Cameroon star at Atlético, but she has shown flashes of brilliance in March, as she did in the previous two months, and so she keeps her place in our top 10.

10. Christy Ucheibe, Benfica

At only 20, Ucheibe is staking her claim as one of Nigeria's rising stars. She started for Benfica as they beat fierce rivals Sporting CP 2-1 to win the Lisbon derby in the final of the Portuguese Women's League Cup.

The victory saw them claim revenge on Sporting, who had beaten them 1-0 in the league. Previously, Benfica had started the month off with a 2-0 win over Clube Condeixa.

After the cup win over Sporting, Ucheibe started the 7-1 thrashing of Torreense and came off the bench in the 1-0 victory over Albergaria.

The defending champions are currently one point behind Sporting at the top of the league table with each of the two having played eight matches.