SCOTLAND central defender Ifeoma Dieke is set to put 20 months of misery behind her with a return to international football when the Cyprus Cup gets underway in Larnaca today.
Although the 33-year-old is unlikely to start in the opening game against tournament favourites France, she is very much in Anna Signeul’s plans for the remaining group games against the Netherlands and Australia.
Dieke was riding the crest of a wave when chosen to play for Team GB in the London Olympics but ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in the second game against Cameroon at the Millennium Stadium. It cost her the chance to play against Brazil in front of 70,000 fans at Wembley in the final group match. “While my team-mates were travelling back to London, I was flying home to Scotland,” she recalled. “No disrespect to Cardiff, but playing Brazil at Wembley is every footballer’s dream. I wanted to be at the game even as a spectator, and my brother had tickets, but I was on crutches and the surgeon advised me to keep the swelling down.”
There was a further massive blow for Dieke, who was born in America to Nigerian parents but grew up in Cumbernauld, when Scotland drew Spain in the Euro 2013 play-offs. In a bid to help Signeul’s side qualify, the Scottish FA made Hampden available for the first leg. “In eight years playing for Scotland I’ve never played at Hampden,” she pointed out. “That was bad enough, but then I had to watch the second leg in Madrid on a live stream. We were about to go through to the finals in Sweden when Spain scored with the very last kick of the ball.”
Dieke only returned to football with her Swedish club, Vittsjo, at the end of last year but now hopes that 2014 will bring a change of fortune. Her last game for Scotland was a Euro qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland in April, 2012. “I’ve been on 90 caps for a long time,” she smiled. “There were times when I didn’t know if I wanted to come back, but now the spark has returned.”