Wafcon 2022: host Morocco prove ‘a team to be feared’, says Rosella Ayane

Moroccan players celebrate victory over Nigeria at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations
Morocco have qualified for the Women’s World Cup for the first time and are just one win away from a maiden African title

Morocco showed they were “a team to be feared” after eliminating defending champions Nigeria on penalties in the semi-finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon).

The hosts will now face South Africa in Saturday’s final, with the two teams vying for their first continental title.

“We are absolutely relentless,” striker Rosella Ayane told BBC Sport Africa.

“We absolutely anchored it and showed why we’re a team to be feared. I believed in it the whole time.”

The Moroccans created plenty of chances in the second half and in extra time, but the game nevertheless ended tied 1-1 after 120 minutes.

The North Africans were roared through a packed stadium in Rabat on Monday, setting a new African women’s attendance record of 45,562 fans.

Tottenham player Ayane scored the winner in the penalty shootout to seal a 5-4 victory but said the occasion and the celebrations were “a big blur”.

“Going into the final is an incredible feeling,” added 26-year-old Ayane.

“Morocco has such a special place in my heart. It’s a really nice feeling to see how happy my family is, my loved ones. That’s why you do it.”

Ayane took seconds after scoring before celebrating the win and admitted she had lost track of the shootout’s progress.

“I felt the pressure, I’m not going to lie,” she said.

“I was happy when he hit the back of the net. I didn’t even know it was the winning penalty. I had no idea.”

The Moroccan team “like sisters”

Moroccan players celebrate against Nigeria at the Women's Africa Cup of Nations
Morocco equalized against Nigeria just four minutes after falling behind in the semi-finals

Coach Reynald Pedros guided Morocco within touching distance of a first-ever Wafcon title, and sealed qualification for the Women’s World Cup for the first time.

He said their support at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium against Nigeria was “incomparable”.

“When you feel all this fervor, when you are on the pitch and you hear all these people supporting us… we talk about the 12th member of the team, but it was the 13th, the 14th, it was fantastic,” said the Frenchman.

Defender Yasmin Mrabet, meanwhile, believes Morocco – making their first Wafcon final appearance since 2000 – have “exceeded all expectations”.

“I’m very proud to be where I am and to fight for this country with these teammates,” she told the BBC.

“There’s a mix of cultures, but we all have the same goal. Now we’re all like sisters, we’ve lived together for so long and I think everyone brings something different to the table.”

Nigeria ‘showed courage’ in defeat

Nigeria reacts to semi-final loss to Morocco at Wafcon
Nigeria left the tournament after Ifeoma Onumonu (second from left) had his penalty saved

For Nigeria, who had midfielder Halimatu Ayinde and striker Rasheedat Ajibade sent off after criticism from video assistant referees, it was a heartbreaking defeat.

The Super Falcons defended bravely with nine players for nearly an hour and nearly scored a late winner when substitute Gift Monday rattled the crossbar late in extra time.

“I was so proud of the team to be able to go 120 minutes and see it 1-1 up,” Leicester City defender Ashleigh Plumptre told BBC Sport Africa.

“When it came to penalties I was really confident, but it’s a game of luck when it comes to penalties. When you think about it, this (performance) shows a lot of courage.”

The Super Falcons have had an iron grip on the Wafcon title since winning the inaugural tournament in 1998, but will not win the trophy for the first time in ten years – and only the third time in their history.

Also qualified for the 2023 World Cup, the nine-time champions now have a trip to Casablanca to face Zambia in the play-off for third place on Friday.

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