"New Zealand, here we come!" This call, which rang out from the jubilant Ghanaian players on 5 July 2008, would have been unthinkable just a month earlier, when the Black Maidens' bid to reach the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup looked destined for failure.
However, while the cynics suggested that defeat in their opening two final stage matches had left Ghana's hopes in tatters, these doubters reckoned without the character and determination of a side which duly went on to rescue qualification from the jaws of elimination. Yet while merely qualifying for these maiden finals in Oceania represents a considerable achievement in itself, Ghana are determined not to merely make up the numbers when they go up against Germany, Korea DPR and Costa Rica in Group B.
That's why, within weeks of securing their place in New Zealand, the Black Maidens' technical team had arranged a comprehensive training programme that will begin with tours of Côte d'Ivoire and South Africa and conclude with a three-week training camp in Australia.
Ghana cruised through the opening two stages of CAF qualifiers, racking up 17 goals and four successive clean sheets against Zambia and Congo DR in the preliminary round and first round respectively. However, if this suggested that qualifying for New Zealand would prove a stroll, Ghana suffered the rudest of awakenings once the final stage got underway.
Vying for the two available places with Nigeria and Cameroon, the Black Maidens got off to the worst possible start, going down 4-2 in Abuja, this after twice coming from behind through goals from Florence Dadson and Priscilla Saahene. The result left Abraham Allotey's side under considerable pressure to win, or certainly avoid defeat, in their next match at home to Cameroon, and they looked on course to achieve that aim when captain Mercy Myles broke the deadlock inside five minutes. The visitors rallied, however, and Njoya Nchout Ayara twice found the target to leave Ghana facing near-certain elimination.
A fortnight later, the Maidens played host to Nigeria knowing that only victory would keep their hopes alive, and it took until the 95th minute for them to secure the result they required, with Elizabeth Addo heading home a last-gasp corner. Nevertheless, Ghana still needed to win away in Cameroon, and this imposing task became all the more difficult when Bebe Ariane curled home a 30th-minute free-kick to hand the hosts a 1-0 lead. The comeback began when Fordjour Isha restored parity early in the second half, and was completed when Dadson - the team's top scorer - headed home a Myles corner with just five minutes remaining.
Until recently, Abraham Allotey combined his role as coach of the Black Maidens with managing Ghanaian Premier League club Great Olympics, a team he had previously taken charge of between 2000 and 2001. The Accra-based outfit haven't won their national title in 34 years, however, and Allotey's frustration at his side's increasingly disappointing form led to him quitting at the end of May to focus on his work with the Maidens. After guiding the U-17s to New Zealand 2008, Allotey is likely to remain in charge for the showpiece itself, although Nanabanyin Eyison, chairman of the Maidens' management committee, recently revealed that a senior coach would travel to advise Allotey and "boost his performance".
Players to watch
Captain Mercy Myles proved a hugely influential figure during qualifying and is already leading by example off the park, insisting that Ghana should go to New Zealand "determined to win something". As for goals, look no further than Florence Dadson - nicknamed ‘Maa Longie' - who scored an incredible six goals in just one qualifying match against Congo DR.
What they said...
"New Zealand is very far, but we shall surely make it big. We are not going to New Zealand as tourists, but real footballers from Ghana, and we hope to follow the feats of the Starlets and Black Stars," Mercy Myles, Ghana captain.