There will be a celebration of African soccer next week in Johannesburg. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) will hold its annual awards ceremony April 1 in the South African city. The festivities will focus on achievements on the pitch (field) in 2002.
One of the soccer players who will be honored is Alberta Sackey, the captain of Ghana's World Cup-bound women's team, nicknamed the "Black Queens." She will receive CAF's Women's Footballer of the Year award.
Alberta Sackey captains not only the "Black Queens" of Ghana, but also the women's team at Robert Morris College in Chicago. In a telephone interview with VOA Sports from Chicago, Ms. Sackey said she is thrilled to be selected as the Women's Footballer of the Year in Africa.
"I feel great. It's a big honor in Africa. Getting it [the award], I'm happy about it," she said.
Alberta Sackey is also happy to be at Robert Morris College, where she is studying business administration. An excellent student, Alberta was recently named to an academic all-star team with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She says after graduation, she hopes to go into the accounting field.
Kurt Melcher, the head coach of the women's soccer team at Robert Morris counts himself as lucky to have Sackey on his squad. He said Alberta has brought superb skills and leadership to his team.
"Obviously, the first is a high level of soccer ability, ability that we've never had on our team before," he said. "And secondly, the other great thing that she brings to our team is leadership. She's captain of Ghana's national team, and she brings a tremendous amount of leadership. She sort of leads by example on the field. She has really been a tremendous addition for our team."
Coach Melcher recalls that Alberta Sackey first caught his eye four years ago at the Women's World Cup, which was staged at eight stadiums across the United States.
"[In] the 1999 Women's World Cup, Alberta was captain of Ghana's national team and they actually played a game here in Chicago," he said. "I went to that game and I watched that game. Now, obviously, I wasn't there to recruit players, but I thought, wouldn't it be great if any of these players from Ghana would be interested in a college education. And actually, there was a professor here at our school who was from Ghana, and we talked to him about the possibility of bringing some players over. He gave me a telephone number, and eventually that number led onto the coach of the Ghana national team, and eventually led onto Alberta."
Alberta Sackey plays forward (striker) for both Robert Morris College and the "Black Queens" of Ghana. She is regarded as a game-breaker and constant scoring threat. The "Black Queens" are hoping Sackey's scoring touch will be apparent later this year in China, which will host the next Women's World Cup from September 23 to October 11. Ghana earned a trip to China by finishing runner-up to Nigeria at last year's African Women's Football Championship.
According to Alberta, the Ghanaian team needs to make some changes before it goes to China. "After talking to the coach personally, he has a lot to do. We need to prune certain things, bring in some people, and change our style of play," she said.
At the 1999 Women's World Cup, Ghana was grouped with China, Sweden and Australia in the first round. The "Black Queens" did not advance to the next stage. Alberta Sackey and her Ghanaian teammates do not yet know who they will be grouped with at the 2003 Women's World Cup. The final draw will be announced May 24. Sackey says the "Black Queens" are hoping to improve on their World Cup performance of four years ago.
"We were in the 1999 World Cup, but we were not even able to qualify out of our group," she said. "This time it's the second time, and we need to do something. We need to qualify out of our group. Something should happen there in China. Something should happen, and the Black Queens name must be heard. So that is the ambition."
As for Alberta Sackey's future ambitions after the Women's World Cup, she says she will focus on her studies at Robert Morris College in Chicago, and then if she's given the opportunity, she would like to play in the Women's United Soccer Association, the professional league that kicked off in the United States in 2001.