On the Dec. 10, 2022, Sevilla striker and Moroccan international Youssef en Nesyri towered above the Portuguese defense under the spotlights in Doha to head home a truly immortalized goal in the 42nd minute which proved to be the winner to send Morocco into the semi-finals. The North African side had gone where no other African national team had made it before — the final four of the FIFA Men’s World Cup (MWC). Now just over six months later we are gearing up for the Women’s World Cup (WWC) in Australia and New Zealand as the Moroccan women look to make history too as they will participate in the tournament for the first time in their history. We take a look at how they got here and if they can pull off a similar deep run to the men’s side.
Given the position of Morocco, the Atlas Lionesses carry the hopes of both Africa and the Arab world in the tournament just as the men did seven months ago. They become the first Arab nation to qualify for the tournament in its 25-year history. Both the men’s and women’s football teams are benefitting from the huge investment into the sport with strategic development in key infrastructure across Morocco with an aim of hosting major tournaments and their national teams competing on the global stage led by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) and it’s President Fouzi Lekjaa.
Reynald Pedros took charge of Morocco in 2021 after three years at Lyon where he won the league twice and the Champions League twice too. He was graced with the Best Women’s Coach award by FIFA in 2018. Pedros at the helm and with a big recruitment drive pulled together a strong team that shook the continent at the 2022 WAFCON hosted in Morocco. Carried by the home crowd, the Atlas Lionesses stormed their group with three out of three wins beating Senegal and Burkina Faso 1-0 and Uganda 3-1. In the quarter-finals the qualification to the Women’s World Cup was on the line Morocco faced Botswana in Rabat. The first seven minutes delivered two goals with both sides scoring off free kicks and set up a riveting game. Tagnaout was the star of the game as she delivered two sublime assists with long lobbed crosses as Yasmin Mrabet delivered the winner with a strong header at the back post. This was it, this was history for Morocco as the women’s side qualified for their first-ever World Cup.
With qualification in the bag faced tournament favorites and holding champions Nigeria in the semi-finals. The tightly contested game ended 1-1 which was already a huge achievement but Morocco took it further during the penalties as they did not put a foot wrong scoring five out of five with Rosella Ayane unwittingly delivering the winning penalty to win 5-4 and secure a spot in the WAFCON final. The victory was a huge shock for Nigeria who had a bad night with two red cards and numerous missed opportunities but the sheer determination of Morocco beat a giant in the tournament. Morocco lost the final 2-1 to South Africa in Rabat despite a solid game and a fiery second-half display.
Pedros has announced his provisional squad list of 28 players for some friendlies prior to the final list on July 10 when five players will be dropped ahead of the WWC. There is one player from the Serie A Femminile in Napoli’s Sabah Seghir and one from the English Premier League in Rosella Ayane of Tottenham Hotspur. The main source of stars remains local giants AS FAR who have eight players called up including captain Ghizlane Chebbak and highly-rated attacker Fatima Tagnaout. In addition, their star defender Yasmin Mrabet who plays for FC Levante in Spain and CAF CL top scorer Ibtissam Jraidi who plays for Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia are included in the squad list.
The road to the final in Sydney will be tricky to say the least as a monumental challenge awaits the young side as they will be in a group with Germany, South Korea and Colombia. Germany were finalists of the Euros in 2022, Colombia were similarly runners up in the 2022 Copa America and South Korea came up second in the 2022 AFC Cup. Morocco round this up as the WAFCON runner’s up as well.
The group is an absurd one as each side came second in their continental championship in the previous year showing the talent and the hunger to progress in the World Cup. The only difference between Morocco and the rest is that they are debutants in the WWC while all the rest have at least three tournaments under their belt. Experience plays a big role on the biggest stages and Morocco are coming in with none. If the side pull off a coup and manage to get out of the group they would likely face France or Brazil in the round of 16 which is a tall order given the quality and depth of these sides.
The Moroccan women will undoubtedly carry some pressure on their shoulders given how exceptional run of the men in the World Cup last year as they went further than any other Arab or African side in history finishing in fourth place. The women have already made history through qualification but they could do even more in Australia if they manage to get out of the seemingly group of death. An African team has only gone as far as the quarter finals and this feat has only been achieved once. Nigeria made it to the quarter finals in 1999 but the teams have never gone past the round of 16 since. Can Morocco rise up to the challenge and pull off a rout similar to the men’s side?