The final whistle in Ghana’s semi-final clash versus France at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 signalled the end of the Black Maidens’ bid to contest a first ever final at a FIFA women’s competition, yet the African side were by no means distraught in defeat. Indeed, though there was talk of what might have been at Baku’s 8 km Stadium, the overwhelming feeling in the camp was one of pride at reaching the last four – thus making competition history for their country and for African women’s football.
Now the Ghanaians’ sights must turn to signing off with another historic feat: by clinching third place against Germany on 13 October. “Today’s game wasn’t easy,” Alberta Ahialey told FIFA.com after Tuesday’s semi-final defeat. “France are tough opponents, it was the first time that we’d reached the semi-finals and it simply didn’t happen for us. Luck wasn’t with us today but we need to bounce back, because we want to win the next game.”
Still only 15, the young forward was able to put aside her disappointment and look ahead with determination, pride and surprising maturity: “We’ve got a very good team and I’m impressed by the standard of football we’ve shown at this tournament. We lost against France but we’re going to make one huge final effort now, because we really want to finish third – to be champions of our next game.”
Ahialey, scorer of one goal to date at Azerbaijan 2012, was a battling presence throughout the semi-final, though the French defence had clearly been pre-warned about her ability and gave Ghana’s No9 little room to manoeuvre. Even so, the striker remained pleased with her overall displays at the global showpiece: “To be honest, I’m satisfied with how I’ve performed so far, but I want to play better in the next match and hope I can do that.”
These are sentiments that her coach Mas-Ud Dramani is sure to echo, even though he admitted his young team have surpassed pre-tournament expectations on Azerbaijani soil. “Our goal was to reach the quarter-finals, but we managed to do even better,” said Dramani. “So, we went into the semi-finals as underdogs. We had never got this far (at this competition) before.”
Firm yet approachable with his players, in whom he always shows complete faith, Dramani believed Ghana paid the price for youth and inexperience against Les Bleuettes, though he also insisted positives can be taken from the 2-0 reverse. “We can bounce back,” he said. “In fact, I think that we’re maturing by the day. The players are very young and they need to be able to handle themselves in defeat as well as in victory. That’s the way for them to evolve and improve.”
Ahead of Ghana’s final push at Azerbaijan 2012, the last word went to Ahialey, who underlined the squad’s determination to end on a high before heading for home. “This is the first time that the Black Maidens have gone so far at a tournament,” she concluded. “Ghana are proud of that and we want it to stay that way. That’s our biggest motivation, which is why we want to win our next game.”