Ghana have grown into the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup over the past couple of weeks, and as their opening defeat to Germany drifts deeper into their collective memory a tangible confidence looks to be filling the side.
In fact, ever since the first half of that game at the Dalga Arena on 23 September Ghana have performed well. While they were unable to overturn the two-goal deficit they had already accrued, they gave the European champions a real scare. With a morale-boosting 5-0 win over Uruguay before beating a decent China PR outfit 2-0 to follow, that 45 minute stumble has been corrected and they now have developed a purposeful stride.
It’s a progression not lost on coach Mas-Ud Dramani, but he feels they are yet to find their top gear yet. “I think that it’s good that the team keeps improving into the competition, which is what you want when you are at a tournament, but I still don’t think we have hit our peak,” he told FIFA.com. “I hope that in our next game we find this peak.”
Having made it through from Group D as runners-up they have been gifted the unenviable task of facing Japan, the tournament’s top goalscorers who are yet to pick the ball out of their own net. Even so, Dramani feels the Black Maidens are more than equipped to dispatch their Asian adversaries, feeling they are flattered somewhat by a generous programme to date.
“I think the Japan side is technically good, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have weaknesses. They have been fortunate not to play sides that look so strong, such as the likes of a Germany, China or Ghana, but I think we’ve gone through that process and we’re very ready for the Japan game. We’re composed and I think we’ll be ok.”
They teed up the match – the furthest they have come in three attempts at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – after seeing off China PR in a disciplined tactical display that all-but nullified the threat of the Steel Roses. Packing the midfield and pressing hard with an extra body, as Samira Abdul-Rahman came in for forward Wasila Diwura-Soale, disrupting the Chinese side’s more intricate passing style before hitting them on the counter-attack.
Dramani feels a similar approach could be beneficial against the Little Nadeshiko, but the challenge will certainly be greater. “I think the Japanese will not play as defensively as China, they look more silky and when playing a side who is technically good it’s better to restrict the ball carrier and the options around them, which hopefully is what we’re going to do.
“Tactically we will have to play as a team, but we have striking individual players also and I think that is the hallmark of a good side, plus physically I think we look better.”
One of these individuals is goal-scoring heroine Jane Ayieyam, who bagged both goals against China PR – taking her individual tally to four, and was unsurprisingly full of confidence after spearheading the Ghanaian counter-attack. “I get my goals because of my speed, that’s why I’m able to get the better of defenders,” she said after the game. “Theirs were very flat, so I knew I would be able to get past them.
“We are improving and we’re going to make sure we beat Japan. Anyone who comes our way we are going to beat them, all the way until the final.”