In the 22 years since their last appearance, Morocco have clearly accumulated a lot of luck among the footballing gods.
The hosts of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations didn’t need it in the group stages where they beat Burkina Faso, Uganda and Senegal.
And in the quarter-finals they were – as Botswana coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang freely admitted – tactically and technically superior to the South Africans.
This victory gave them a place in the world Cup for the first time.
And their good fortune was on display in a thrilling semi-final when – beginning to feel the heat of a hitherto underachieving Nigerian side – the defending champions went schizophrenic as they went from abdication mode to defense. of the Kingdom.
With two players dismissed for consecutive red cards, jealousy preceded the fall in a shoot to the nett in front of a record attendance of 45,562 people.
The nine Nigerians who resisted in Morocco for nearly an hour were unsurprisingly hailed as heroic.
Coach Randy Waldrum, who said he was proud of their achievements, could be sacked for failing to lead the country to a 10th Nations Cup trophy.
But it would be hard to fault him for the incompetence of not one but two experienced players.
After Halimatu Ayinde’s rogue stamp on Rosane Ayella’s heel, Waldrum would be free to wonder what was going through Rasheedat Ajibade’s head when she replicated Ayinde’s meanness on Zineb Bedouani’s heel.
Even with a two-man advantage, Morocco could not defeat Nigeria. “We lacked a bit of lucidity with the final pass,” Morocco boss Reynald Pedros said after the penalty shootout in front of 45,562 fans – a record for a game at a WAFCON.
Ayella acknowledged that the change in expectation after the two starts had shattered thinking on the pitch.
But they regained their composure and were all cool during the shootout, especially Ayella who was held up with procedural explanations by referee Maria Rivet just before the fifth penalty;
Progress to the final – along with the free entry offer – ensured another full house at Rabat’s Prince Moulay Abdallah stadium on Saturday night to end the tournament with a projection of success – even though the vast majority of the crowd is disappointed part after South Africa win 2-1
No icing on the cake therefore for Morocco during the first Nations Cup with 12 teams. But a feel-good factor that creates the environment to rightly demand much more.
That it took three decades for the tournament to go from 8 to 12 highlights the lack of investment in women’s football among the 54 associations that make up the Confederation of African Football (Caf) which organizes the Nations Cup.
Although the European equivalent started with four teams in 1984, it grew to eight teams for its seventh edition in 1997, 12 in 2009 and 16 in 2017.
Tellingly, the prize money for the 2022 tournament has doubled compared to the 2017 festival to €16m.
With the cumulative winnings after a payment of 600,000 euros for reaching the tournament, the victorious team could return just over two million euros to the coffers of the national team.
WAFCON remains a waif in comparison. South Africa’s Banyana Banyana – as they are known – will take home $500,000, a significant increase from Nigeria’s 2018 salary of $200,000
But still far from their European sisters. “It is impossible to compare Africa and Europe,” said Meskerem Goshime, one of the senior Caf executives overseeing the development of women’s football in Africa.
“Firstly, when we talk about the Nations Cup, it’s a celebration of African women’s football and we have to take it as such.
“It’s where strong nations come to compete and it’s a chance to introduce and rebrand women’s football. It’s where we say we are here.”
Even in the first tournament to feature 12 teams, there were calls for expansion.
Members of the Technical Study Group (TSG) – the panel that looks at playing styles during the competition – have called on Caf chief Patrice Motsepe to move towards 16 teams within four years.
“Nations Cup is the big chance. It’s the tournament where players and coaches can get new opportunities,” said Jacqui Shipanga, who coaches the Namibia women’s team.
“I’m not saying 20 or a 24-team tournament – let’s stick with 16 and that would be a great legacy for the current CAF leadership.”
Mercy Tagoe, a member of the TSG and coach of the Ghana national team, echoed his request.
This was not surprising as his team lost to Nigeria on aggregate in the tournament qualifier which was held on a regional basis for the 2022 competition.
This move to a larger format will be organic, says Goshim. “We have over 40 member associations applying to qualify, if this continues we will increase to 16,” she added.
Brave newbies against an established powerhouse always provide a happy tale in any great competition.
And it was just as evident during the 21 days in Morocco with entries from Burundi, Togo, Botswana and Burkina Faso. Burundi had to face defending champions Nigeria and series runners-up South Africa in Group C.
Botswana, which also featured in Group C, advanced to the quarter-finals as one of the top two third-placed teams from all three groups.
And because the 2022 contest served as a qualifying tournament for the 2023 World Cup, they were 90 minutes away from reaching that tournament. Such a feat would have been spectacular.
Instead, the hosts reserved their ticket.
“I’m extremely proud of my team,” said Morocco boss Reynald Pedros as he reviewed his side’s achievements.
“They performed so well. They honored the shirt and honored the supporters.”
What coach could ask for better? The gods will not be disappointed either.