Morocco’s men stole the hearts of Arabs and fans worldwide at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Now the North African nation’s women’s team will look to pull off a similar feat.
When on July 20 the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand, the team will make further history with their first-ever appearance at this level.
The ninth edition of the tournament, which will run until Aug. 20, will be unique in that it will be the first time that it involves 32 teams. Additionally, it will be hosted in the southern hemisphere for the first time, with weather conditions expected to be cooler than would have been expected in the summer months of the northern hemisphere.
Morocco’s women are on the rise.
After beating Botswana in the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals, Morocco became the first-ever Arab nation to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Having secured their spot by reaching the last four in front of their own fans, they went on to beat Nigeria in the semifinals. Sadly, in front of a vociferous 51,000-strong crowd in Rabat on July 23, they fell just short of final glory by losing 2-1 to South Africa. Despite that disappointment, a second-place finish was an exceptional performance.
Now they will have to prove they can do it on the biggest stage of all.
Morocco have been drawn in a challenging group, against Germany on July 24 in Melbourne, South Korea on July 30 in Adelaide, and Colombia on Aug. 3 in Perth.
The journey to play in such exalted company is even more impressive when you take into account the Moroccan women’s team barely had any pedigree to speak of even a few years ago.
Their record consists of two group stage exits in 1998 and 2002, and had not even qualified for a single Africa Cup of Nations appearance from 2002 until they hosted the tournament in July of last year.
The nation’s current crop of stars have more than made up for their historical subpar performances by brilliantly making their way to the final, particularly the win over Nigeria, who are seen as a global powerhouse in women’s football.
When Reynald Pedros — a two-time UEFA Champions League-winning coach and FIFA Women’s Football Coach of the Year in 2018 — was tasked with leading the national team in 2021, it showed how seriously the Royal Moroccan Football Federation was taking the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil, not to mention the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The appointment of Pedros turned out to be a masterstroke as he implemented rigorous standards, developed tactical acumen and discipline, and most importantly, instilled a sense of achievement in a group of players who had never won a title before.
“This is just the beginning of a new adventure,” the former France international said following the final defeat to South Africa, before adding that the Atlas Lionesses “have shown people that Moroccan women’s football brings happiness.”
One of the standout performers for Morocco has been midfielder Ghizlane Chebbak of ASFAR club, who finished the Africa Cup of Nations as joint top scorer with three goals before being named the tournament’s best player.
Chebbak, with teammate Zainab Radwan, was also chosen by CAF in the team of the tournament for their performances in reaching the final.
The 32-year-old has had to wait a long time to demonstrate her abilities on the international stage. Having now excelled at continental level, the team captain will now see Australia and New Zealand 2023 as her last big chance to showcase her talents to the world. Chebbak remains her country’s all-time top scorer, and is also known for her physical strength and classy demeanor on the pitch.
Chebbak says that she had expected her country to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals in Qatar, but insists that Moroccan football is no longer monopolized by men’s teams only.
As Africa’s second-best team, Morocco’s women will now rub shoulders with the world’s best nations, including four-time world champions the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea and the Netherlands.
Along the way, they will carry the hopes of all Arab nations, just as the men’s team did in Qatar. And who knows, they may emulate or even surpass their achievements.