Let's arise and shine, Ghana!

Author: Ebo Kwaitoo
Ths Black Queens line up in one of their preparatory games

Anytime Ghana gets the opportunity to host the rest of Africa in football tournaments, she always passes with full marks, as far as my mental faculties can recollect. That is why I'm fascinated about the continental football fiesta which will take centre stage in Accra and Cape Coast from this weekend.

After some earlier challenges, the dream has finally become a reality as the much-anticipated 13th edition of the Total Women's Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will kick-off at the refurbished Accra Stadium this Saturday with an appetising opener between the Black Queens of Ghana and their Algerian counterparts at 15.30 hours GMT (3.30pm). The opening game will be followed by the other Group A match between Mali and Cameroun at 18.30 hours GMT (6.30pm).

The defending champions, Super Falcons of Nigeria, will begin their title defence against stubborn South Africa at Cape Coast on Sunday at 3.30pm, followed by Zambia and Equatorial Guinea at 6.30pm.

I was compelled to put on hold an intended series of national interests in order to galvanise support for this equally important national assignment which needs all hands on deck to ensure a successful hosting of the tournament. Interestingly, this is the first time Ghana is hosting the Women's AFCON, which ironically is yet to be won by the Queens who are indisputably one of the powerhouses of women's football on the continent.

Out of the 12 editions so far, the Super Falcons have won the title 10 times, while emerging force, Equatorial Guinea, hosted and won the remaining two trophies in 2010 and 2014. If there is a place for logic in football, then Coach Bashir Hayford and his Queens also stand a chance of making history as the third team to host and win the trophy.

Besides winning the ultimate, the other motivation for the Queens is to pick one of the three tickets reserved for the top three teams for the FIFA Women's World Cup in France in June-July next year.

The nation woke up to a refreshing news last Friday when the contractors finally handed over the new-look Accra Stadium to the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Apart from capitalising on territorial advantage to win the trophy for the first time, the other benefit of hosting such international competitions is to improve upon the nation's sports infrastructural deficit, not to talk of the economic boost to the local currency, the hospitality industry, transport industry, and above all, Africa unity.

History is replete with some captivating stories of how Ghana hosted similar events in the past. Apart from the enthralling host-and-win experience at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Accra, which my mind could hardly capture at a very tender age then, the events that followed on home soil in contemporary times were quite remarkable and memorable. That perhaps explains why the continental football body, CAF, keeps knocking at the doors of this soccer-crazy country at the least opportunity.

Ghana has a track record of excelling on such occasions, even at short notice. I vividly recall how Ghana readily stepped in to co-host the 2000 edition of the AFCON alongside our noisy neighbours, Nigeria, when Zimbabwe was stripped of the hosting rights on political grounds at the eleventh hour.

Those were the days of the longest-serving Sports Minister, Enoch Teye (E.T) Mensah, and the Black Stars went into the tournament with high expecations under Italian trainer, Giuseppe Dossena. However, after a fascinating 1-1 draw against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun at the Accra Stadium, the farthest Ghana could go as co-host was the last eight stage (quarter-finals).

That memorable event was preceded by another memorable 1999 Africa U-20 Championship which Ghana host and won in Accra under Coach Dossena. That historic moment was followed almost a decade later by the much-touted Ghana 2008 AFCON host and win dream which turned out to be a mirage at the end of the day. When it mattered most, the best performance Claude Le Roy's Black Stars could muster was a bronze after losing 0-1 to Cameroun in that heart-breaking semi-final clash at the Accra Stadium.

But through it all, the nation still received all the plaudits for the outstanding organisation as hosts, whether she won the ultimate trophy or not. The same quality organisation was on display when Ghana hosted and won the sub-regional WAFU Cup at Cape Coast last year.

Once again, the entire nation is being called upon to mobilise our resources to ensure another great tournament as Ghana showcases the best of hospitality while hosting seven other countries — Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroun, Zambia, Algeria, Mali and Equatorial Guinea — in the next fortnight.

From their recent international friendlies against Zambia and Kenya, it can be deduced that the journey could be tortuous for the Queens but the girls can still draw inspiration from their victorious WAFU Cup campaign in Cote d'Ivoire last February to pull through.

Arise and shine, Black Queens! History beckons !