Ghana receive tough draw on the road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023
The Black Queens face Nigeria in the first round of qualifying
"Nigeria are the African champions, so there is no room for complacency"
Teams around the world are finally dreaming again of reaching the next FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and Ghana are among them. The Black Queens have featured at three previous editions of the tournament, most recently competing at China 2007 before failing to qualify for the Women’s World Cups in Germany, Canada and France. Mercy Tagoe is now setting out to change all that by helping the team to rediscover their former strength. This will not be an easy undertaking, as Nigeria – the most challenging opponents of all – await them in the first round of qualifying for the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2022.
"We always keep in mind that Nigeria are the African champions, so there is no room for complacency," Tagoe said in an interview with FIFA.com. "Aside from the technical and tactical aspect of training, we are doing a lot of psychological exercises. I did the same routine at the WAFU Zone B tournament in Côte d’Ivoire in 2018, and Ghana beat Nigeria for the first time at that event," she added.
Could this be a good omen? Unlike Ghana, Nigeria have never missed a Women’s World Cup and are heading into these matches as clear favourites. "We have a lot of respect for Ghana. We know their strengths and qualities. No matter how difficult the task and how great the pressure, though, every player has to be up for it," Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said after the draw. The strengths he mentions are increasing all the time and could help to take the Black Queens back to the top of the sport. "The standard of the women’s football league in Ghana is high and impressive," explained the former Ghana international, who was part of the team that made their Women’s World Cup debut at USA 1999.
"The competition itself is getting keener, which of course has helped to unearth some great talent. The new dates for the qualifiers will also help us to prepare the team very well in all aspects of the game. I believe Ghana are on the right track," she said. "Right now, my team are not too bad, as every player is taking part in competitions at their various clubs. The only issue is that they need to continue training together for a while and play a series of friendlies both locally and internationally before I can consider them ready for any competitive matches or competitions."
ALMOST ANYONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE, BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN TEAMWORK. HAVING SAID THAT, THE CAPTAIN OF MY TEAM (ELIZABETH ADDO, PICTURED ABOVE) IS A VERY ENTERPRISING AND DYNAMIC PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR.
While the national team take their first steps towards a bright future, the sport as a whole is also growing steadily in their homeland. The strategy for the women’s game in Ghana includes several key targets for training and developing referees, coaches, doctors and physiotherapists. Tagoe herself served as a referee in the Ghana Premier League before going into coaching and was named Sportswoman of the Year at the Entertainment Achievement Awards in March 2021.
"Women’s football is growing very fast considering how challenging it was in the past to get women to play football due to certain cultures, beliefs and values," explained the 47-year-old, who represented Bluna Ladies at club level during her playing career. "Unfortunately in this part of the world [Africa], a woman is perceived as a homemaker and caregiver, and so it is the boys who have to go to school, hustle, work and make ends meet at home. That’s why getting families to understand the idea of women’s football and securing schools and careers for the players in Europe, Asia and the USA is something worth doing.
"Enlightening the players about education is, in turn, enough for every parent to allow their daughters to play football now in Africa. That’s why I believe that we’re moving in the right direction and that improvements can still be made if the appropriate authorities invest more in the women’s game." Tagoe has overcome several challenges of her own to get to where she is today, having previously balanced the responsibilities of a wife, mother and homemaker with her work as an officer in the Ghana National Fire Service. "Notwithstanding all that, I believe in dedication, self-discipline and perseverance as a stepping stone to achieving your goals, and that has been the bedrock of my success at this level," said the inspirational Ghanaian.
The Black Queens are now aiming to write a successful new chapter in their history, and Tagoe is proud to be part of it – although she is quick to point out that there is still plenty of work to do. "The first job is to identify talented players, groom them with a proper grassroots development plan, help them by providing the necessary training and expanding capacity and, finally, monitor their progress closely," she explains, before emphasising that more support is needed to improve the women’s game in the country. "At an administrative level, I think we should look at building capacity for all stakeholders – referees, coaches, administrators and the media – in order to enlighten them about the latest trends in their respective fields. Last but not least, introducing more cup competitions will keep the players active throughout the year, which will of course raise the level of the various national teams." It could also help Ghana to reach their fourth Women’s World Cup.