Hauptle’s Black Queens have taken off; how high could they soar?

Not qualifying for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) came with consequences that, a year on, Ghana’s Black Queens are still grappling with.

The ongoing Fifa Women’s World Cup, which kicked off last Thursday, is the latest reminder of what they missed out on — the opportunity to qualify for the Mundial is, in fact, only available to teams that make it to the Wafcon — but one more price Ghana had to pay was the recent engagement with Guinea in a bid to reach next year’s Summer Olympics.

Another perk of being at the Wafcon was that the best teams there were spared the preliminary round of Olympic qualifiers, meaning Ghana had to do a little more than seven of the other contenders (the World Cup-bound quartet of South Africa, Morocco, Zambia and Nigeria, along with Cameroon, Tunisia and Botswana) for a place at Paris 2024.

Anyway, the Queens gave a fine account of themselves, over both legs, thrashing Guinea by three unanswered goals in the away fixture, thus reducing the reverse at home days later to a formality — that was won 4-0, even though the general observation was that Ghana could have shown even greater ruthlessness.

“We had a big dominance on the pitch,” Nora Hauptle, the head coach, said after the victory.

“The only thing I would say is that maybe we should have scored a bit more goals out of these chances,” the former Swiss international added, before expressing her satisfaction with the overall performance and outcome.

“But all in all, I am very satisfied, happy that we passed this first qualification round.”

Hauptle would be pretty pleased, too, with all that has been accomplished under her tenure.

Having enjoyed an extended honeymoon following her appointment in January, during which Ghana only played three games — all friendlies, all won by an aggregate 7-0 score — Hauptle has now had the chance to see how the team she has built thus far fares in the face of real competition. The first true test has been passed with flying colours, but there are some more to come in the months ahead.

After being idle for so long — Guinea being their first competitive opponents in 21 months — Ghana now face a period of activity that could see them very much in business well into 2024. There are three more rounds to go before the Queens could achieve success in their quest to strike the Olympics off the list as the only major tournament they’ve never been at, a duel with Benin — who they thrashed 3-0 in Hauptle’s very first game, by the way — presenting the second hurdle come October.

Sandwiching that double-header will be the first stage of qualifying games for the next Wafcon, versus Rwanda; win that, and the Queens would only have to beat either Gambia or Namibia to clinch a return to the continental showpiece. If they successfully pull through the qualifiers for both tournaments, the Queens would have a third competition to look forward to within the year — the 13th African Games, which Ghana are set to stage in March 2024.

That would certainly make up for the series of disappointments in the last few years, starting with the 2018 Wafcon out of which Ghana crashed despite being hosts, before being denied — on a bizarre technicality — a chance to defend the African Games title they won in 2015 when the next edition came around.

There is, then, plenty to make up for, and, indeed, plenty to reach out for; Hauptle, no doubt, would want it all on her plate.

She inherited a team with a healthy, young core — now augmented by some fresh faces, including exciting U-20 midfielder Stella Nyamekye — but which had lost its spark.

The 39-year-old, passionate and full of ideas, appears to have provided just the rejuvenation and reboot required. By the end of 2023, it should become quite clear just how well her ideas have caught on, and also just how far she can take this team.

For now, the Queens would have to finish bearing the cost of their 2022 Wafcon no-show, watching the rest of the world — including the four teams representing Africa at the Mundial — take to the biggest stage of them all, Down Under.

By Enn Y. Frimpong



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