“This is what we came for, to make history,” said exultant Ghana captain Priscilla Okyere, speaking after her side had pulled off the shock of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 by beating tournament favourites Japan 1-0 in Friday’s quarter-finals.
“And we’ve made it,” continued the midfielder. “We’ve made history but we want more. We’re hoping to beat France, reach the final and take this World Cup home with us.”
Having failed to make it past the group phase in their two previous FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup appearances, the Black Maidens will be contesting their very first semi-finals in the competition against Les Bleuettes this Tuesday.
What makes their achievement even more notable is the fact that they are the first Ghana women’s team to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA competition and the first African side to appear in the last four of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
“I know that the eyes of all Africa are on us and that drives us on,” said an excited Okyere after Friday’s ground-breaking game. “Our country is watching us because of what we achieved today. I can’t even describe how that feels.”
Sherifatu Sumaila’s 51st-minute goal was enough to send the previously unbeaten Japanese back home early. And naturally the striker, who also represented her country at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, was thrilled with her performance: “I’m so excited because I didn’t score a single goal in 2010. In fact, this is my first goal in a World Cup and I’m very, very happy.”
Confidence the key
Skipper Okyere could not stop smiling as she explained how she thanked her team-mates for their efforts against the Japanese: “I was expecting a lot from my team today and my colleagues showed me how great we are. I just thanked all of them for allowing me to get so far in this competition. Reaching this stage is something we’ve all worked towards.”
Okyere also heaped praise on Ghana coach Mas-Ud Dramani, the other architect of their success in Azerbaijan: “It’s wonderful when you have a coach who believes so much in his team. He believes in us and we believe in him, which is just perfect.”
So what was the secret to toppling the Little Nadeshiko? “Our desire,” came the giggling Okyere’s reply. “We wanted to win. We really wanted it and we went out and did it. We knew Japan were the favourites, but we did what we had to do.”
Ghana adopted a defensive gameplan against the Japanese, stifling their opponents' passing game and disrupting their usually neat interplay. Then, once in possession, they drew on their superior athleticism and speed to launch dangerous counter-attacks.
That defensive side of their game is essential to their future in the competition, and Okyere hopes Ghana can be just as solid when they take on the French.
“Of the teams left in the World Cup, Ghana is one of the best in terms of defending,” she said, focusing on the task ahead. That was what took us to victory in the quarter-finals, and now we’ve got our sights set on knocking out France.”
Supremely confident in her team’s abilities, the captain said that they need to maintain their focus if they are to see off the Europeans, while colleague Sumaila signed off with a message for the people of Africa, who are following the Black Maidens’ exploits with interest.
“We are going to carry on playing for Africa, just as we have been doing up to now,” said their goal hero. “We’ll be doing our very best to win this World Cup for them.”