At the last FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup two years ago in Japan, Ghana's Black Princesses had one of the youngest squads, with several of the players well under the age-limit. The youthful group found the going tough as they lost all three group matches and crashed out in the first round, conceding six goals in the process without reply.
Fast forward two years and coach Bashir Hayford will be able to take a much more experienced side with him to Canada, where the west African team will be competing at their third consecutive finals. FIFA.com caught up with two of his ranks who will be returning to the U-20 finals for the second time.
Both Alice Danso and Grace Adams have twice before played on the world stage. They were in the Ghana U-17 team that was knocked out in the first round at the world championships in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 and then two years later represented their country at the U-20 finals in Japan. Vice-captain Danso is confident that the side can do better this time around. “We have been preparing very well for the tournament. We are getting all the support we need, and I am sure that when the competition starts in Canada, we will be ready.”
The African country has been drawn into Group A, where they will be facing the hosts Canada, who were beaten finalists in 2002 when they hosted the first tournament. Also in the section are Korea DPR, who won the tournament in 2006 and were runners-up in 2008, as well as Finland whose only other appearance ended in disappointment in 2006 as they were knocked out after three defeats, during which their defence leaked 12 goals.
I think we can go very far if things go our way. We are strong enough to come home with the trophy.
“We know that we are in a strong group and that the game against Canada will be very tough. They are the hosts, and we know how they play. They are a physical side and we will have to be at our best if we want to beat them,” Danso said.
Unlike the men's FIFA U-20 tournament, which Ghana won once from three finals, the women's team has struggled. Striker Danso laughs when asked why the men's side has been more successful. “I don't know an answer to that. I wish I did."
Scoring the lone goal
En route to Canada, Ghana played just two qualifying matches and scored a single goal. After Guinea-Bissau and Uganda withdrew, the Black Princesses were left just two games away from the finals, with their third round opponents being Equatorial Guinea, who won the first leg tie in Malabo 1-0. In the return leg, the home side overturned the result with the same score and then won the penalty shoot-out 4-3. The sole goal in the return leg in Accra was scored by Adams. “It was a fantastic feeling to score the goal that ultimately took us to Canada. I felt very proud that I should have been able to score," she told FIFA.com.
The college art student, with a passion for drawing, believes that their side is better equipped to play at the finals this time around. “I certainly think we have a team that can go far. I think we can go very far if things go our way. We are strong enough to come home with the trophy. We have been training very hard for the tournament in Canada, and I do not think that having played just two matches in the qualifiers will give us less chance of being successful at the finals.
“By the time we arrive in Canada, we will have played several friendly matches and will be at our best. I am sure that we will be a competitive side in Canada and even though it is a difficult group, we can go through to the next round.”
Like most of her team-mates, Adams plays her club football in the senior women's league in Ghana. “I would like to play professional football, but to do that I would have to leave Ghana and play in Europe or in the US. If I were to get an opportunity to do that, I would certainly take the chance,” she said.
A strong performance in Canada – at her third World Cup – would certainly do her hopes of finding a professional club no harm. Whether it will be enough to take the Black Princesses to a first-ever match in the knock-out phase of the competition remains to be seen.