Morocco’s maiden participation in the World Cup is an achievement in itself. Hosting the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 was a huge boost to promoting the women’s game in the country and the side reached the final with a team largely composed of players from Rabat’s AS Far and some very talented individuals from further afield.
The draw has put Morocco in a delicately balanced group with Germany, South Korea and Colombia and the aim would be to reach the knockout stages, despite it being an extremely difficult mission. Having also participated in the Under-17 World Cup in India, Morocco is beginning to take women’s football very seriously.
As with the men’s side, the team is a melting pot where four or even five languages are spoken, but the common goal is not just to succeed on the pitch but also to advocate the women’s game and serve as trailblazers for the generations to come. It seems a genuine aim in a country where football has long been the “game of men”.
A shift in mentality definitely came in 2022, with the Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat a full house for every Morocco game at Wafcon. That fever grew when AS Far hosted and won the second edition of the CAF Women’s Champions League.
When the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) contacted Reynald Pedros during the pandemic, they wanted a big name to help the team make the leap to the top level. He proved to be just the person for the role. The former France international is a legend, having won two Ligue 1 titles, a French Cup and two Women’s Champions League titles with Lyon. Pedros is conscious of the importance of the women’s game for Morocco and has brought in a number of young and talented players from Europe. Leading the team to the World Cup could be one of his biggest challenges, but whatever the outcome, he seems set to be linked with Morocco for a long time to come.
Ghizlane Chebbak is the face of Moroccan women’s football. Her late father was a Morocco international and was part of the team that won the sole Afcon title for the Atlas Lions in 1976. He was also her biggest supporter when she decided to play football. Chebbak is captain of the leading Moroccan club AS Far and is an icon in the country. Whenever she has the time, she speaks to young girls, encouraging them to follow their dream and to put the work in. “Moroccan people love watching football and they love supporting anyone who represents the country,” she told fifa.com.
Fatima Tagnaout is without a doubt a generational talent. Her unique style, speed on the flank and dribbling skills make her a real danger for opposing defenders. But Tagnaout’s main weapon is her tremendous shooting ability with her left foot, a tool she uses perhaps less frequently than she should, preferring to assist rather than to score. She was voted player of the tournament at the Women’s CAF Champions League in 2022.
An African attendance record was set during the 2022 Wafcon in Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat. The semi-final between Morocco and Nigeria dhad 45,562 fans in the stands. Some believe that during the final, the numbers were higher than 50,000, though without any official confirmation. What is sure is that there were hundreds of fans outside the stadium, wanting to get in and cheer for the Atlas Lionesses.
The Moroccan FA has been investing in the promotion of women’s football since 2009, but the pace of the development took a huge leap in recent years, with the creation of a professional league. In order to protect the players, FRMF pays their monthly wages. This has encouraged a lot of families, who were concerned about the uncertainty of a footballing career for their daughters. In 2018, Morocco hosted the Symposium on African Women’s Football, which led to a number of resolutions regarding the development of the game. The FRMF also created a women’s football academy six years ago. Morocco is the only country in the world with a two-tier championship that is entirely professional. Besides the senior team, Morocco managed to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup, held in India in 2022. The Under-20 team was close to qualification for the World Cup in 2020, but the pandemic hit and Fifa had to cancel the tournament. Otherwise, it could have been a hat-trick for Moroccan women’s football.
The lack of experience at the highest level could be the main difficulty. Nevertheless, they have enough talent to make it to the knockout stages. The opening game against Germany is daunting but anything can happen and even a close defeat would give the team a real boost.
Source: The Guardian