Morocco lost the final of the Women's Africa Cup of Nations to South Africa in July. The final score was a 2-1 scoreline that dashed the hopes of the Moroccan team. The Atlas Lionesses competed like never before and reached the final against all odds, eliminating Nigeria, the favourites and eleven-time winners of the tournament, in the semi-finals. It was no coincidence, Reynald Pedros' girls put the finishing touches to a long-standing project set in motion by the Moroccan Football Federation (RMFF).
The Alawite Kingdom began to lay the first foundations of its women's football category years ago in the middle of a continent where the phenomenon is still underdeveloped and remains in the background. The RMFF's first ambitious move in this direction was to organise an African Cup of Nations, which it did this year. In its role as host, the Moroccan national team won the hearts of the country with its football and, in addition to coming within a whisker of winning the title, won the hearts of the fans.
"In view of the fervour that pervaded the country during the tournament, which they hosted, they also caused a surprise off the pitch," FIFA itself underlines on its website. The Atlas Lionesses performed at a very high level throughout the competition until they reached the final. By the time the players were preparing to take on Banyana Banyana, the whole of Morocco was watching their women's team.
The Moulay Abdallah stadium in Rabat, the venue for the final, had a record attendance of 50,000 for a women's match in Africa. Tickets were sold out two hours before kick-off.
Atlas Lionesses captain Ghizlane Chebbak, named player of the tournament, told the Sofoot website that they were "fully aware" of their role throughout the Africa Cup of Nations. "We had to honour Moroccan women's football to show the parents of all the girls here that it is possible to succeed through sport, but also to be adored by the public. So we did everything we could to show that it was possible," explained the FAR Rabat striker, who assessed the tournament as "a first step that we must consolidate tomorrow".
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation is working every day to achieve this goal, to consolidate women's football in Morocco and to raise it to the same level as the other African federations. This is what its general secretary, Tarik Najem, explained to FIFA. Accompanying Najem in this role is the recently appointed national technical director Chris Van Puyvelde, an experienced coach of Belgian origin, as well as the people in charge of the various regional leagues, who are the levers for the progress made by the authorities.
There was never any facilitation. The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for all federations, including the Moroccan federation. Najem acknowledged that the RMFF had to "appeal for a contribution from FIFA" when the world football body was handing out $500,000 in subsidies for women's football alone. These funds were used to launch a sort of footballing Marshall Plan in August 2020 to put together an ambitious project.
Morocco's advantage was that it was not starting from scratch. In 2019, the RMFF had already founded the National Women's Football League (LNFF), chaired by El Ayoun-based leader Khadija Illa, who is of Sahrawi origin. The federation urged the various clubs to set up women's football teams to compete at this level, with the RMFF paying the salaries of the first and second division players, as well as the various technical and medical teams.
For years, the RMFF has been organising training courses for coaches and players at all levels. In terms of training, Moroccan football is a few steps ahead of its main competitors. The Mohamed VI Academy, which has produced players such as Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri, West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd and Angers midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, three players who are currently playing in the World Cup in Qatar, is well known.
As Fatima Bartali, press officer for the Moroccan U-17 women's national team, explained to the Afrik Foot portal, the FRMF also created a women's football academy six years ago, whose promising players from all over the country have access to the same facilities as the men's national teams. "Just like the Mohammed VI Academy for boys, the girls go to the school to graduate. They are supported as much as possible," said Bartali.