Wednesday 14 September 2016, 06:31

Ghana's Black Princesses aiming high

When Ghana's Black Princesses arrive in Papua New Guinea for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in November, they will be led by one of the continent's most qualified coaches. However, not only is Mas-ud Didi Dramani a CAF elite coaching instructor, he also fulfils the unusual role of being in charge of both of his country's U-20 sides – women and men.

Having been drawn into a very difficult group in the Melanesian nation, Dramani knows that his side will have to be at their very best if they want to escape the group phase. “Two of our opponents, USA and France, have traditionally been very strong, based on their influence in football and in education.

"We respect them and will build our preparations on the respect we have for these teams. We know that we are meeting sides that are more refined in terms of facilities, but we can also rely on our consistency."

France are four-time UEFA women's U-19 champions, their last triumph coming earlier this year in Slovakia, when they beat Spain in the final, while USA share the most global victories with Germany, having won the World Cup three times. “We have played against both of them, so they will not come as a surprise. But we still have to do some groundwork about New Zealand, in order to get a lot of information about them.”

They will open against the Kiwis on the second day of the tournament: 14 November. Dramani, who is also Ghana's Youth Development coach, does not believe his charges will be overawed by the stage and is confident that his team can escape the group for the first time in their history, having been eliminated in the opening round in their previous three appearances.

“I expect us to move beyond the group phase. Once we have achieved that, further goals will come automatically. But we have to stay realistic,” says Dramani, whose in-depth understanding of football began at a young age in the footsteps of his father. He was named after the former great Brazilian international Didi. “My father returned from a coaching course in Germany and Brazil just before I was born and decided to name me Didi.”

Experience at the global level Having been in charge of Ghana's side at the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan, the 50-year-old will call on an array of relatively experienced players with whom he is very familiar. “I am lucky as they have passed through my whole development. I have the responsibility to help them to improve, and I have given them a strategic plan and let them know that they need to improve as an individual.

"Not only on tactical and technical grounds in terms of football, but in terms of general life. And once they know that they can depend on you to give them that, they will give you maximum effort.”

The father of three boys and two girls is widely credited with having overseen the improvement in footballing fortunes in the west African country. “When I was appointed to the U-17s in 2011, I gave the federation a roadmap. This would see the girls at the U-17 level progress to the senior team and I am pleased to say that they have achieved that. Some of them have already moved to the Black Queens level.

“And today we have an active women's league, which we did not have back then. Some of the team also play in Europe and when they come back, they bring a lot of experience and that is of benefit for the whole team.”

Dramani, who himself played up to Olympic level for Ghana and captained professional club Real Tamale United, can also call on the knowledge he gained whilst studying towards a sports degree. “I decided to give up football and go back to school. Modern football is all about sciences and you need to have that understanding.”