This week, the women's football community rejoices as the Black Queens secure their spot in the 2024 Women's African Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco, following their 3-2 aggregate victory over Namibia in the final qualifying round.
The celebrations resonated far and wide, marking a momentous achievement after the disappointment of missing out on the 2022 tournament, which also doubled as the qualifiers for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. However, as the euphoria settles, a crucial realisation looms – the real work lies ahead, demanding meticulous preparation and strategic planning.
The recent victory over Namibia was a testament to the team's resilience. It was a stark contrast to the heady days of 1998 when the Queens, then the highest-scoring side, clinched a spot in the inaugural WAFCON by overpowering Guinea 19-0 on aggregate. Fast forward to 2023, and the journey to qualification had its own challenges, with a 3-1 victory in the first leg at the Accra Sports Stadium setting the tone for the triumph.
However, the significance of this achievement extends beyond the immediate joy. Coach Nora Hauptile and many of her young players are new to the continent's flagship tournament, but stand at the threshold of an opportunity to reshape their narrative.
The 2018 tournament in Ghana, marred by a disappointing group-stage exit for the Black Queens, a pre-tournament favourite, serves as a stark reminder of unfulfilled potential. This time around, with a renewed sense of purpose and experience gained from overcoming adversity, the team have the chance to chart a different course.
Again, this is the first time both Coach Nora Hauptile and the majority of her players will be having a feel of the WAFCON, or else the fanfare that has greeted this latest qualification must be toned down.
The fact is, the Queens have missed out on only two WAFCONs since 1991, in 2012 hosted by Equatorial Guinea and in 2022 in Morocco, but have progressed to the semi-finals more than they had exited at the group stage.
In 2016, they won bronze, beating South Africa in the third-place game after losing to hosts Cameroun in the semi-finals.
The skill, talent and pedigree of women’s football in Ghana give the Queens a ‘must be there’ privilege at the WAFCON, and on the few times that they have disappointed, it was not because the team were poor, but because they did not get the needed logistical support to accomplish their mission.
Thus, having secured qualification to Morocco 2024, the preparations must not be taken for granted, as that is the real deal.
During the qualifiers, Coach Hauptile has had the convenience of working with a team almost entirely made up of foreign-based players, something her predecessors were deprived of due to the ‘no money’ chorus that has often been sung by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
In preparing for Morocco 2024, Miss Hauptile must find a place in her team for local players and boost their confidence. The Queens must not suffer the same fat the Black Stars currently suffer.
Unlike in previous years when other countries were not so keen on women’s football, making it a preserve of a selected few like the pacesetters and record champions -Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroun and one-time champions, Equatorial Guinea- more countries have shown interest and are investing heavily in their women’s game.
It took South Africa 20 years to win their first WAFCON in 2022, having consistently planned and invested in all facets of their game since 1998.
Morocco have also shown how prompt the right investment, quality preparation and consistency can do, as they did not only make it to the final of the WAFCON after their only appearance in 1998 but have gone on to qualify for their first WWC in 2023 and even progressed to the second round on their first attempt.
Coach Nora Hauptle has turned around the team’s fortunes but there is still more work ahead
For years, the Queens have called for more attention and support to be able to break Nigeria’s monopoly in winning the WAFCON. South Africa and Morocco have shown it is possible and achievable and it is for Ghana to take a cue.
That Namibia ended the Queens' clean sheet streak with a back-to-back goal (forcing them to concede an own goal in Accra and score the only goal in Pretoria in the return) leg is an indication that the Queens are not completely insulated; they are a work in progress. Thus, they will have to improve upon whatever they have built and achieved so far.
After the qualification, the Queens have two key assignments they must rather see as the big deal; the All African Games which will be hosted in Accra in March 2024 and the final stage of the 2024 Olympic qualifiers against Zambia in February 2024.
The Queens won the African Games in 2015 in Brazzaville. Now that captain Portia Boakye scored a late penalty to beat Cameroun to win gold, the target should be to ‘host and win’ to show that they have reclaimed their place among Africa’s big girls, as well as makeup for the 2018 WAFCON fiasco.
Securing a ticket to the 2024 Olympics, Paris 2024, must also be delivered, so that both fans, the team and the Ghana Football Association (GFA) can have a real party over that achievement, for that will be the first time and ending all the ‘so close, yet no show’ heartbreaks the team and fans have suffered since 2004.