Monday 24 July 2023, 04:30

Najat Badri, heart of a lioness

  • Najat Badri is one of the leading figures in the Morocco national team

  • She is part of the squad debuting at Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • Coming back after her pregnancy was a considerable challenge

"In football, nothing is impossible." The phrase may seem trite to some, but in Morocco it has become a mantra. While the men's national team became the first African side to reach the last four of a FIFA World Cup™ at Qatar 2022, the Atlas Lionesses produced their own bit of history with a maiden qualification for a FIFA Women's World Cup™ at Australia & New Zealand 2023. That latter feat is all the more impressive when you consider how far the women’s national team have come in such a short space of time. Between 2000 and 2020, they managed to qualify for just one major tournament: the Arab Cup in 2006. Suffice to say that, after 20 years in the shadow of the top nations in the women’s game, Morocco’s chances of gracing the 2023 Women’s World Cup did not look great.

"You can make a lot of progress in a very short time," Najat Badri tells "We simply gave ourselves the wherewithal to make it happen. I hope that the younger generation realise that today all the conditions are in place for Moroccan women's football to finally shine."


If experience is what matters, then Najat Badri will not be found wanting. The 34-year-old midfielder, who plays her club football with AS FAR, earned her first cap 16 years ago and has seen good and bad times with the national team. One of the leaders in the side, she personifies Moroccan women's football, which, having been beset by stereotypes and prejudices for many years, is now being celebrated by an entire nation. The renaissance of the women’s game there has parallels in Badri’s own story, with the player having battled back after maternity leave. In what is still a rarity among professional women footballers, the midfielder chose to put her playing career on hold ahead of the birth of her child, little Malak, in 2019. "To be honest, getting back out on the pitch again after my pregnancy was not easy. But I was finally able to recover physically and start playing again," she says, referring to the few months’ maternity leave she took. "It turned out that the doors of the national team were still open!"

"Many girls think football is incompatible with family life. That may have been the case previously but not anymore. I’m living proof that women can continue playing football at a high level after becoming mothers. It's entirely possible to take a break and come back. When I resumed playing, Moroccan women's football had greatly improved," she says.

It should be added that the Royal Moroccan Football Federation has invested heavily in the discipline. That impetus was massively supported by FIFA through its Forward Programme, which, as part of the COVID-19 relief package, offered each member association a USD 500,000 grant for women's football. Nor have these concerted efforts been in vain: three years on, buoyed by unprecedented popularity and enthusiasm, Morocco defied all expectations by reaching the final of the CAF Women's Africa Cup of Nations when it hosted

"That AFCON was a watershed moment. The women's team has grown in popularity and mindsets have changed, with parents no longer reluctant to enrol their daughters in clubs. Now they encourage them to play football, while a few years ago, it was something taboo," she continues. "At our level, things have also progressed, with much more significant support than before both from institutions and the public."

Stars aligning

And the story is a long way from over. After the joy of reaching the Women’s World Cup, Morocco can look forward to going up against the very best of the women’s game in Australia and New Zealand. Equally enthusiastic about the tournament are the country’s passionate fans. Given the memorable support they provided the men’s team in Qatar and the equally high esteem in which they now hold the Lionesses, their support could be even greater this July and August Down Under.

"We’re working hard to raise our level even further and live up to expectations. Presenting a good image of Morocco is very important to us," Badri insists. "The performances of the men's team has had a huge impact on us, and their success in Qatar motivates us even more.

"Every player dreams of one day seeing their name on such a list. It would be a privilege especially since it’ll be a baptism of fire for our team. Participating in a World Cup is a great honour for us as a team, for women and for Moroccan women's football in general," she concludes.