Nora Hauptle stood on the touchlines barking out orders for almost the entirety of the game. Even for a coach whose side had won the first leg 3-0, she looked the part of a gaffer who wanted more.
Mission Volta: Nora Hauptle’s Black Queens juggernaut ready for next step after 9 straight wins
Nora Hauptle has led the Black Queens to nine successive wins and now the team is looking towards Mission Volta, a deliberate agenda to return Ghana’s national women’s team to the top…
Finally, she nodded – a seal of approval – when Evelyn Badu put Ghana in front with a smart finish in the 65th minute. The Black Queens would go on to beat Benin 2-0 in the 2024 Olympic Games qualifier, completing an emphatic 5-0 aggregate victory over their opponents in the process.
The Black Queens had struggled to get going in the first half as fans inside the Accra Sports Stadium eagerly waited for something to cheer about. Their build-up was sloppy, the passing wasn’t great and they weren’t finding the spaces as easily as they did in their previous matches.
Such was the lethargy in their play that Benin nearly stunned them twice in the opening 10 minutes; first testing goalkeeper Cynthia Konlan before hitting the post after Ghana failed to clear the ball from an out-swinging cross.
However, the Black Queens upped the ante in the second half and began to play their normal game. Two substitutions and a few tactical tweaks from the dugout ultimately did the trick.
“In the first half we put ourselves in some difficulties,” Hauptle admitted in a post-match press conference. “I told the team during the half-time break that we need to do the simple things.
“So the tactical execution, the passes, first touches and crosses were not good and that can happen in football. We didn’t have the best game in the beginning but we fared better in the second half.”
Under Nora Hauptle, the Black Queens have often blown teams away with cheeky ease. It’s now been nine wins out of nine games. The team has also scored 31 goals and conceded none.
The Swiss coach has created a team that’s fast becoming a winning machine; a juggernaut that keeps on grinding and an army that has mastered the art of battering its competitors. And the refreshing thing is that they don’t need to be at their best to blitz their opponents.
However, it’s the first time under Hauptle that Ghana have struggled in the first halves of successive matches. Against Benin in the first leg, the Black Queens laboured for large spells in the opening 45 minutes and needed a better second half to triumph.
The story was no different in Accra on Tuesday, with the team only coming alive after the half-time break. Hauptle, though, does not believe complacency got the better of her side.
“I did not have the feeling that we were flying too high in the final trainings,” she said. “Also, in our meetings and talks with the players, it was not that we were over-confident.
“No excuses for the poor performance in the first half, we faced some challenges. But this is football, it’s more about how we reacted and I think in the second half, we showed this attitude.”
There’s been effusive praise for the Swiss coach and her backroom staff for transforming the fortunes of the Black Queens. In less than a year, the team has gone from being fragile and spineless to one of the most consistent and ruthless on the continent.
That much has been down to a conscious effort to get every player on the same page. It’s not just about training properly and playing for each other on the pitch, but also the intentionality of the approach, fused with data-driven analysis, that has led the team to its recent successes.
“It’s about mentality,” Hauptle outlines. “Are you willing to run for each other, run into spaces? We’ve broken a lot of details there [via] video analysis and it may be key against our next opponent.”
It’s easy to overly focus on the positives when a team is flying as high as the Black Queens currently are. For some coaches, criticism in such moments is seen as cynical and misanthropic.
Hautple, though, is not getting carried away by her side’s winning run. She was the first to admit during the post-match press conference that Ghana’s tactical executions against Benin were not good enough. While owning up, the 40-year-old also assured that those mistakes have already been identified and will be fixed before the team’s next assignment.
“I think today we got in good positions to cross but tactical executions were not good,” she said. “The decisions have been good, the play was wonderful and there was a lot of space in the second half, which we overloaded.
“But the tactical delivery was bad, so we need to work on the final pass. Also, in Benin, we trained on an artificial turf and that’s another kind of pitch. So it’s rather a bit technical and then we need to really point out what went wrong and tighten the screws very well.”
Ghana failed to qualify for the last Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) and the Women’s World Cup. With Hauptle’s appointment, however, the goal is to return the Black Queens to the pinnacle of football, hence Mission Volta.
“Volta” is a play on the river that flows through Akosombo but it also means “Turn” in Portuguese. Hauptle and her team, therefore, coined the term ‘Mission Volta’ to remind themselves of the work that lies ahead as they aim to turn around the fortunes of the national team.
The Black Queens continue to rack up victories in friendlies and in qualification games and, for Hauptle, the agenda now is to take the next step. She enjoys coaching this team and she wants to take them all the way… from the Olympics to WAFCON to the World Cup.
“The next step in the Mission Volta is the WAFCON. We have the second qualifying round against Namibia, then we can qualify and get back to the WAFCON,” she said.
“The last time we didn’t qualify, so this is one big point in our Mission Volta. Then in February, we face Zambia in the third round of the Olympic qualifiers.
“We have a good development in our performance, so we need to make sure that our players are ready over the window. We need to make sure we are best prepared for Zambia, who were at the World Cup and are a top team, but I think we will be ready for them.”
Mission Volta is up and running!
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