Queens start off with win

A goalmouth scramble in the area of the Algerians

A goalmouth scramble in the area of the Algerians

WHOEVER thought the Black Queens of Ghana were going to eat the Fennecs of Algeria alive may have made a pretty penny error as the Ghanaians were given a good run for their money in the opening game of the Total African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON).

Saturday’s Group A opener to the tournament’s 11th edition, saw the Queens running away with a fiercely-contested 1-0 win, courtesy Glady’s Anfobea’s 12th minute speculative volley outside the area – a goal that nearly brought down the bullocky foundation of the refurbished Accra Sports Stadium.

It was an important goal of class for the hosts – madly celebrated by a zippy and animated crowd that included Ghana’s First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, CAF president Ahmad Ahmad, Sports Minister Isaac Asiamah, Members of the Diplomatic Corps and a host of dignitaries.

The two teams knew each other pretty well zooming into the battle, having had an equal share of the spoils – dating as far back as 2010 when the Queens upstaged the Algerians 2-1 in South Africa. Four years later, it was time for the Fennecs to cut their pound of flesh with a slender 1-0 win.

So, evidently, followers of the continental game knew Saturday’s opening tie was going to be a long row to hoe for the Queens. And, it was!

The Queens started the afternoon on a gingerly, calm fashion, perhaps, aware of the havoc the Algerians could cause if not well handled.

But their initial too-cautious approach made them commit a litany of unforced errors with central defender Faustina Ampah the biggest culprit.

The all-cheering crowd may have been sitting momentarily on a powder keg against the Algerians who were staging their fifth appearance – and were all-too composed with a rich passing game that occasionally drew pretty patterns on the lush field.

Steadily, the Queens will raise their game, backed by a raucous, expectant home crowd, as their confidence soared in place of near absence of self-belief.  Though skipper Elizabeth Addo (Ama Pele), was not at her usual best, she was still a delight to watch with deft touches and adroit dribbling skill.

Pele had brought into the game an aura of dynamism animated by her personal charisma and unwavering commitment. But she had to leave just after the hour mark for an equally enterprising Mavis Asantewa.

In the seventh minute, Queens’ Samira Suleman, was freed by Sherifatu Sumaila’s incisive through ball only for her to fire lamely straight into the hands of awe-inspiring goalkeeper Kahina Takenint.

Few moments later, the Ghanaians had two corners in succession, but Takenint was on hand to tidy up the situation. The pressure was becoming inexorably persistent at this stage. It was time for their backline to crack – and Anfobea would make it count after trapping and poking home a speculative drive outside the area.

There was some venom behind the strike as it tore through the fingers of the stubborn goalkeeper Takenint and exploded into the net.

The stadium boomed into a roar of g-o-a-l. Indeed, it was a goal of consummate class. Suddenly, there was whirring of handkerchiefs and miniature national flags by celebrating crowds and the turning of their guts at moments of tension. They had filled the stands with home-made flags, banners and icons – chanting the name of the Queens.

Algeria were always going to have to endure and survive. But they also cut through the Queens a few times and could have stolen the equaliser three minutes from the half-time whistle, but Madina Ramdani’s header was too feeble to beat goalkeeper Patricia Mantey.

The hysteria that always surrounds their play, the sense of desire and expectation, perhaps becomes at times prohibitive.

The Algerians were forced to make their first change in the 26th minute after Amina Chahinez sustained an injury and was replaced by Imene Merrouche.

With the atmosphere positively charged for action, the Queens started the second stanza with gusto and could have extended their lead but Portia Boakye’s effort in the 51st minute was cleared off the line.

Coach Bashiru Hayford made his first substitution by bringing on forward Jane Ayieyam for Suleman. And together with Priscilla Okyere, substitute Mavis Asantewaa, Amfobea and Sherifatu Sumaila, the Queens opened fire on the tactically richer Algerians – squandering an avalanche of opportunities in the process.

Such dissipation irked the home fans – made even worse by a whistle-happy enigmatic Ethiopian Referee  Lidya Tafesse – who was roundly booed  and hooted at as she churned out a string of contentious decisions.

Audible groans and boos were heard reverberating around the stadium as the Queens continued to squander gilt-edged opportunities until the end of the referee’s final signal. The scoreline could have been more comforting for Ghana had they not allowed the profusion of chances to go waste.

All the same, at the final whistle, the Queens fell into each other’s arms. It was a mixture of excitement, relief and plain old exhaustion. They had worked hard, but there is a lot more to do if they are to win their first African title – having been at the grand final three times (1998, 2002 and 2006).

In the group’s other game, Cameroon came from behind to defeat Mali 2-1 – a result that puts them on top of the standings.

The Queens will face the Malians in their second game on Tuesday, while Algeria take on Cameroon in another cagey encounter.

The top three teams at this year’s Nations Cup will qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

BY JOHN VIGAH

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