Saturday 10 December 2022, 07:00

Morocco and Portugal making progress in women’s football

Morocco and Portugal are both familiar faces at the FIFA World Cup and will be facing each other for the third time in the history of the competition when they meet in the Quarter-Finals. Both countries are now making progress in the women’s game too, with Morocco to make their debut at the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year, and Portugal one match away from joining them after qualifying for the Play-Off Tournament in Aotearoa New Zealand in February. Morocco defied all expectations when staging the 2022 CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, finishing runners-up to South Africa, the only side to beat them, 2-1 in the final. Their reward was debut qualification for the FIFA Women's World Cup™.

The Moroccan Football Association (FRMF) has invested heavily in the women’s game in recent years and its efforts have not been in vain, a feat made even more impressive by the challenging backdrop of the pandemic. As part of FIFA’s Covid-19 relief plan, each member association was eligible for a €500,000 grant for women’s football, funding that has helped Morocco relaunch the sport. Thanks to the resumption of competition, the standard of play has improved dramatically and with it entertainment levels, which has attracted the fans in numbers. At the same time, more and more girls are taking up the game and showing their gift for it.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, obviously, but the talent is there,” said national U-17 women’s team coach Anthony Rimasson, whose side made their world finals debut at India 2022. “Women’s football is still a pretty new sport in Morocco. It took a while to get the structures set up, but the game’s well organised now. We’re better able to spot the talented ones.” Having come through some difficult times, the women’s game in Morocco can look to the future with a great deal of optimism. In 2016 the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) opened its Cidade do Futebol (City of Football) complex to bring all of its sporting and administrative activities together in one place. In addition to the new FPF headquarters, the Cidade do Futebol boasts a technical centre, including a 340-capacity stadium, two grass pitches, a set of dressing rooms equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and an office area reserved for coaching and support staff. The City of Football’s infrastructure was enhanced with support from the FIFA FORWARD development programme.

The improvements have had a positive impact on the women’s national team’s training regime. "The structure of our daily training programme has changed because we can now train at different times," said women’s national team coach Francisco Neto. "The quality of the pitch and the lower risk of injury resulting from this allows the players to perform at an even higher level. That has definitely helped us hugely when it comes to the internal dynamic, the conditions we can offer our players and their wellbeing. It puts the players completely at ease, and as part of the technical team, we love the environment we find ourselves in here now," he explained.

"FIFA plays a fundamental role as it provides a global reference point for football, in our case for the women’s game," Neto continued. "It is extremely important for us to be able to access support and follow best practice examples. Fortunately, the associations have worked with FIFA to address these challenges, and that has given women’s football a real boost." This uptick in fortunes has been reflected in the Equipa das Quinas’ recent success. Having defeated Belgium 2-1 and Iceland 4-1 after extra time in the UEFA qualifying play-offs for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia / New Zealand 2023™, Portugal are just one win away from reaching their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ finals. Neto’s team made it into the play-off tournament by having the third-best record of the three European play-off winners behind Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland, and will face either Thailand or Cameroon.