Tuesday 07 February 2023, 14:00

Success coming naturally for Atlas Lionesses

  • Women’s football enjoying a boom in Morocco

  • Atlas Lionesses preparing for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup™

  • North African nation’s youngsters won the African School Champions Cup

In becoming the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ in Qatar last December, Morocco pulled off the greatest feat in their footballing history. While that outstanding achievement remains very fresh in the memory, thoughts are now turning to another date with destiny, with the national women’s team set for a debut appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, at Australia & New Zealand 2023, in less than six months’ time. “What Morocco did in Qatar was massive,” said talented youngster Nissrine Kebdani, whom FIFA.com caught up with at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2022™. “I wasn’t expecting them to reach the semi-finals. The team did Morocco proud and raised our flag high on the world stage. I hope with all my heart that the girls have the chance to go just as far one day. I’ve dreamed in playing in a tournament like that. It would be a dream come true.”

Football fans might not be familiar with the name Nissrine Kebdani, or with those of Yassmine Sioui and Khadija Erremli. Yet given the speed at which the women’s game is developing in Morocco, it might not be too long before these three teenagers make themselves known to the world. The talented trio form part of the Moroccan Football Association’s (FRMF) Sport/Education section at the Mohammed VI Football Academy. Still only 16, they are unlikely to make the trip to the Antipodes later this year, due to their lack of experience. Nevertheless, they picked up quite a bit of that precious commodity a year ago, when taking part in and winning a competition that should gain in stature in the years to come: the African School Champions Cup.

“Playing in the Cup was a great experience and very rewarding,” said Khadija. “We went and won it, but I’ll always remember the great people I met there and discovering the cultures of different countries.”

The tournament brought together U-16 women’s and boys’ school teams from Morocco, Benin, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal, and host nation DR Congo. The Moroccans won the girls’ trophy, beating the South Africans in the final, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino among those watching. “Seeing those children smile, boys and girls, with joy in their eyes is wonderful. This is the beauty of football,” said the FIFA President, expressing his delight at the lasting impact of a tournament that forms part of his Vision 2020-2023, which focuses on social development and education. “DR Congo did a great job organising this event, which is the first edition of a fantastic competition that is going to become one of the biggest not only in Africa, but around the world too.”

President Infantino was not the only one smiling, as Yassmine confirmed in looking back on an unforgettable occasion: “It was a real honour to collect our medals from the FIFA President. I felt so proud. Nothing could make me happier than playing football and winning that trophy.”

Double impact

That is just as well, because Yassmine, her team-mates and all the country’s other rising talents have their whole futures ahead of them. And they promise to be bright futures too, judging by the efforts the FRMF is making to capitalise on the boom in the women’s game and on the recent results of the national teams.

“Morocco’s achievement in Qatar will guarantee the continued existence of a conveyor belt of talent in our country,” said Younes Rabie, who coached Nissrine, Yassmine, Khadija and their team-mates to success in DR Congo. “It’s a major boost for the sports and education programme at the National Sports Centre. Since the World Cup, we’ve seen more and more girls coming to training sessions, with parents coming along to encourage them. There are more girls playing football everywhere, even in less affluent neighbourhoods. The World Cup has had a huge impact, as will the Women’s World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt.” Walid Regragui and his men have taken Moroccan football to the next level. It is now the turn of the Atlas Lionesses to take Morocco to the pinnacle of the women’s game.