Morocco, the 17th team to qualify for this edition of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, will be participating in their first ever major intercontinental tournament this summer. The Atlas Lionesses will be one of the four teams to represent Africa on the world stage, alongside continental superpower Nigeria, current Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) champions South Africa, and fellow World Cup newcomers Zambia. Morocco will also be the first Arab nation in history to appear at a Women’s World Cup.
Morocco lining up prior to the 2022 WAFCON final against South Africa | photo via AFP
The country of Morocco has seen a tremendous rise of their global footballing status this past calendar year in both the women’s and men’s games. Morocco’s senior men’s national team became the first African nation to reach a World Cup semifinal, ASFAR became the first Moroccan side to win the CAF Women’s Champions League, and Moroccan footballers became international stars and household names for the global football faithful. However, the story of this historic year began last summer with the Moroccan women’s national team, where their wildly unprecedented success in WAFCON became one of the leading narratives of an action-packed international break.
Morocco’s rapid rise to success in international women’s football did not just come out of thin air during 2022’s WAFCON tournament, however. Instead, it has been the result of many years of hard work from a dedicated team of people whose mission is to advance the profile of women’s football in Morocco. The sport has undergone a revolution in the country since 2020, with many high-profile figures in global women’s football such as Reynald Pedros and Kelly Lindsey having major roles in transforming the youth and senior national teams. Pedros has taken charge of the senior national team, transitioning them into a younger, more skilled side, with a focus on national team recruitment for French and Spanish-born footballers of Moroccan descent. Former U.S. international Lindsey has worked behind the scenes with the Moroccan federation to invest money in the women’s game. Her work has helped formulate a 4-year plan to begin paying player and staff wages, as well as create youth tournaments for additional development of young female footballers in the country. Ultimately, both work with the primary mission of professionalizing women’s football in Morocco, a mission which has already materialized into success for the senior national team.
The 2022 WAFCON tournament was the perfect time for Morocco to make a name for themselves on the international stage after their years of investment and growth. Morocco hosted the tournament for the first time, drawing in fans from across the country that would later end up breaking continental attendance records. It became apparent very early on in this tournament that this Morocco team could become something special, as they earned a first-place finish atop of Group A, earning 9 out of 9 possible points. All of a sudden, the Atlas Lionesses and their army of thousands of fans became the ones to beat.
The team advanced to their first ever WAFCON knockout stage in quarterfinals against Botswana, and played a hard-fought 2-1 win with goals by forward Sanaâ Mssoudy and Yasmin Mrabet. The latter’s game-winning goal helped Morocco finish in the final four and qualify them for the Women’s World Cup for the first time ever. Morocco pushed further in the semifinals where they faced formidable African giants Nigeria in a tense matchup, complete with one own goal from Yasmin Mrabet, an unfortunate own goal from Mssoudy, and two red cards for Nigeria-- one for midfielder Halimatu Ayinde, and another for Nigeria’s star player Rasheedat Ajibade. After an extra time period, Morocco managed to push the match to penalties, where they converted each of their 5 spot kicks to completely unexpectedly reach the WAFCON final. Morocco found themselves outmatched by Desiree Ellis’s South Africa, who finally reached African glory after finishing in second place on five separate occasions. Regardless of their loss however, Morocco made African history, and will definitely look to carry their momentum as underdogs into the full Women’s World Cup tournament.
Morocco has had a mixed bag of results in their World Cup preparation matches. They expectedly struggled against the bigger North American and European teams, losing 4-0 each to Canada, Poland, and Ireland. They played four other friendlies against smaller European teams, and earned themselves two wins against Slovakia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but unfortunately lost against the Czech Republic and Romania. Closer to the tournament's start, the team drew to World Cup-qualified Italy and Switzerland and lost 1-0 to Jamaica. The team has only scored 2 goals in their last 6 matches (both against Bosnia and Herzegovina), highlighting a real problem with goalscoring going into the Cup.
Coach: Reynald Pedros
Reynald Pedros with Morocco in 2022 | photo via Goal.com
Former French men’s international Reynald Pedros has experienced a highly-successful career as a women’s football manager, most notably with French club Olympique Lyonnais. Pedros spent two seasons there, winning back-to-back Champions League and D1 titles. In his final season at the club, he added the 2018-19 Coupe de France Feminine title to his trophy cabinet to secure his first and only European treble.
For Morocco, he has played a huge part in their success in the past few years. Pedros has revolutionized Morocco's squad, training regimen, and playing style, so much so that they reached a bizarrely unprecedented second place finish in his first WAFCON tournament as a manager.
This Morocco squad is fairly similar to the squad that was called-up for the 2022 WAFCON tournament, with a few exceptions such as young striker Sanaâ Mssoudy, who last featured for the Atlas Lionesses in October 2022.
Ines Arouaissa (Cannes), Khadija Er-Rmichi (ASFAR), Assia Zouhair (CAK)
Hanane Aït El Haj (ASFAR), Nouhaila Benzina (ASFAR), Zineb Redouani (ASFAR), Yasmin Mrabet (Levante Las Planas), Rkia Mazraoui (Gent), Nesryne El Chad (Lille), Sabah Seghir (Sampdoria)
Najat Badri (ASFAR), Anissa Lahmari (Guingamp), Élodie Nakkach (Servette), Sarah Kassi (Fleury), Fatima Tagnaout (ASFAR), Salma Amani (Metz)
Rosella Ayane (Tottenham), Ghizlane Chebbak (ASFAR), Sofia Bouftini (RS Berkane), Ibtissam Jraidi (Al Ahli), Kenza Chapelle (Nantes), Sakina Ouzraoui (Club YLA), Fatima Zohra Gharbi (CE Europa)
Best player: Ghizlane Chebbak
Ghizlane Chebbak poses in the official Morocco photoshoot for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup | photo by Alex Pantling for Getty
Club: ASFAR (Morocco, LNFF)
Ghizlane Chebbak is the star midfielder and captain for both club and country, as well as the player in the Morocco squad with the most caps and the most goals.
Chebbak is Morocco's most important player, which can be seen in the differences when they play with her versus when they play without her. The team's entire game flows through her, and she is consistently one of their biggest providers of goals and assists. She is also a set piece specialist that is known to score from free-kicks.
Player to watch: Ibtissam Jraïdi
Ibtissam Jraïdi poses in the official Morocco photoshoot for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup | photo by Alex Pantling for Getty
Club: Al Ahli (Saudi Arabia, Saudi Women's Premier League)
Ibtissam Jraïdi is Morocco's second-string striker, but arguably the best striker in their squad. She is much more well-known for her performances with her clubs like ASFAR and Al Ahli, with nine league titles, eight domestic cups, and one CAF Champion's League title. Jraïdi is also the first and only player from the Saudi women's league to be called up to play in a Women's World Cup tournament.
Before leaving to the Saudi league, Jraïdi played an essential role in bringing ASFAR their first CAF Women's Champions League title in 2022. The 30-year-old forward scored 6 goals in 5 games, including a hat trick in the final against South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns. Jraïdi links up very well with left-winger teammate Fatima Tagnaout and center-midfielder Ghizlane Chebbak, a combination to keep an eye out for during Jraïdi's limited minutes.
Group stage head to head:
Like many of this year’s tournament debutants, Morocco’s rise to the top has come only within the past few years, so the team has mostly ever played national teams within its own conference (CAF). As a result, Morocco has never played South Korea, Colombia, or Germany.