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World Cup: How investment is boosting Moroccan football

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Morocco’s passion for football was showcased at the men’s World Cup last year, when the Atlas Lions defied all expectations and reached the semifinals in Qatar. That energy is now flowing into the women’s game.

The Moroccan diaspora reaches far across the globe, including a sizeable community numbering close to 10,000 in Australia.

It meant there was no shortage of red-clad fans in the stands for Morocco’s opener against Germany on Monday. And despite the crushing 6-0 defeat, captain Ghizlane Chebbak still wants to give them something to cheer about.

‘Diversity and richness’
“We don’t want to go to the World Cup just to participate,” she told DW. “We want to be the team that no one bets on but that ends up surprising everyone.”

Moroccan culture combines influences from their Amazigh roots, Arab migration, European colonization and African identity.

For many fans like Nadia Bouchti, who has been living in Sydney the past 10 years, it’s a proud moment to see an Arab nation compete for the first time at a women’s World Cup.

“I’m so excited. Their participation can break down stereotypes as well as highlight the diversity and richness of Arab and Muslim cultures,” she said.

“It’s showcasing the talent and determination of women athletes in the region on the global stage.”

The World Cup will be just the latest chapter in a string of achievements in recent years.

More than 45,000 fans packed out the Moulay Abdellah Stadium for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) final in Morocco’s capital Rabat.

The hosts weren’t supposed to be there, but pulled off a shock win against 11-time winners Nigeria in the semifinals. They lost the final 2-1 against South Africa, but it represented a massive shift for Chebbak, who won player of the tournament.

“Things have changed since the WAFCON. We managed to change society’s perception of women’s football at that tournament,” she told DW.

“The fans’ love is really encouraging and gives us motivation to continue our work. And the Moroccan FA is making huge efforts to provide the necessary conditions. It may take time, but I’m convinced women’s football will shine in the coming years.”

While the Moroccan Football Association has invested in the women’s game since 2009, it’s been a rapid transformation since president Fouzi Lekjaa kickstarted a four-year plan in 2020 with support from the country’s monarchy.

They professionalized the top two divisions, provided set minimum wages for players and the staff of all clubs, and bolstered grassroots funding.

Hiring Reynald Pedros was another masterstroke. The French coach won two women’s Champions League titles with powerhouses Olympique Lyon and quickly reshaped the landscape.

Pedros introduced training standards and tactics and player confidence rose.

“These achievements are the result of continuous work over the years. We had big ambitions,” Chebbak said. “Now we’re concentrating on the World Cup.”

Morocco will rely on foreign-born talent with Moroccan roots at this tournament with Rosella Ayane (England), Yasmin Mrabet (Spain) and Elodie Nakkach (France) playing vital roles.

But the professionalization of the domestic leagues should be the bedrock for future generations.

Shifting opinions on women’s sport
Chabbak was fortunate that her family were always supportive of her dream to play professional football, particularly her father, Larbi, who represented the men’s national team.

“I grew up in a football-loving family who supported and advised me. My father always provided me with guidance,” she said. “Thankfully, I can say that I made him proud and I want to make him even prouder.”

Others weren’t so fortunate, facing opposition from their community and even their own family members.

“We lost many talents due to societal views and families’ rejection,” Chebbak explained. “I knew many talented players who had the potential to go far. But families were afraid of allowing their daughters to play football and prevented them from doing so.”

Germany are Morocco’s first opponents
“I’m so proud to witness these achievements and see Morocco contribute to the growth and recognition of women’s football,” said Bouchti, who traveled to Melbourne to attend the opener against Germany. “We just want to thank them for raising our flag and making us very proud.”

Group H isn’t set to get much easier with games against South Korea and Colombia to come.

And the confidence running through this team should help them achieve their lofty goals.

“It was incredible to qualify but now our focus is on the World Cup,” Chebbak said. “We know it will be challenging but we will concentrate on our style of play. We want to be competitive and reach the second round.”

Given Morocco’s meteoric rise in football in recent years, their ambitions appear within reach.

Source: dw.com

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European Leagues

Europa League leading scorers ahead of semi-final fixtures

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Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the leading scorer in this season’s UEFA Europa League ahead of the semi-final fixtures in May

Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the leading scorer in this season’s UEFA Europa League ahead of the semi-final fixtures in May.

The former Arsenal captain is ahead of Roma’s Romelu Lukaku and Brighton’s João Pedro on the goal chart.

The Gabonese has ten goals to his name so far.

UEFA Europa League top scorers ahead of semi-final fixtures:

10 goals – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille)

7 goals – Romelu Lukaku (Roma)

6 goals – João Pedro (Brighton)

5 goals – Victor Boniface (Leverkusen), Michael Gregoritsch (Freiburg), Viktor Gyökeres (Sporting CP), Fotis Ioannidis (Panathinaikos), Juninho (Qarabağ), Mohammed Kudus (West Ham), Darwin Núñez (Liverpool), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Gianluca Scamacca (Atalanta) and Patrik Schick (Leverkusen).

Meanwhile, Marseille will face Atalanta in the semi-final stage, while Bayer Leverkusen will tackle AS Roma.

 

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Liverpool defeat Atalanta 1-0 but crash out of Europa League on aggregate

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Liverpool were knocked out of the Europa League by Atalanta with the Italian side reaching the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate on Thursday.

Liverpool were knocked out of the Europa League by Atalanta with the Italian side reaching the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate on Thursday.

Atalanta are in the last four of a European competition for the first time since 1988, despite Mohamed Salah’s early penalty giving Liverpool a 1-0 second leg win, thanks to their three-goal lead established in the quarter-final first leg at Anfield last week.

In what is becoming a sobering climax to the season, Liverpool have won just three of their last nine games in all competitions and again looked tired after already having played 52 games this campaign.

Jurgen Klopp may well only have the League Cup to show for his final season on Merseyside as the German’s team have been eliminated from the FA Cup and Europa League and trail Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Gian Piero Gasperini called Thursday’s match probably the most important Atalanta had ever played and his players were hailed as heroes at the final whistle by a pulsating crowd at the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo.

Fireworks were shot into the air from behind the stands while in the ground supporters bounced and roared at a huge victory for their team against giants of European football.

Atalanta last reached the semi-finals of a European competition in 1988 when they were knocked out of the old Cup Winners’ Cup by Mechelen.

Atalanta were then a Serie B team but the future is increasingly bright for a historically small, provincial club which has been punching well above its weight ever since Gasperini took charge in 2016.

Reaching the last four even trumps their run to 2020 Champions League quarter-finals, where they were desperately unlucky to lose to Paris Saint-Germain.

That run came at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, as Bergamo became the epicentre of a deadly global health crisis.

And Atalanta still have the opportunity to crown Gasperini’s reign with the club’s first major trophy since the Italian Cup in 1963.

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Bayer Leverkusen qualify for Europa League semis after edging West Ham

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Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen reached the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday and stretched their undefeated

Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen reached the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday and stretched their undefeated run in all competitions this season to 44 matches.

The German side drew 1-1 at West Ham in the second leg of their quarter-final tie and went through 3-1 on aggregate.

Michail Antonio put West Ham ahead on 13 minutes before Jeremie Frimpong levelled in the 89th minute for Xabi Alonso’s side.

Bayer Leverkusen will face Roma for a place in the final.

“I think we felt it in the first half, for me, it was a typical English crowd. They were pushing West Ham unbelievably. We were lucky in the first half if we’re honest,” Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka told TNT Sports.

“It was a different phase in the second half, we controlled the game. We are happy we got through.

“We competed much more. If you see over 180 minutes, the better team go through.”

Last weekend, Bayer Leverkusen won the Bundesliga for the first time, ending Bayern Munich’s 11-year grip on the title.

They remain in contention for a treble trophy haul this season as they also face second-division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25.

 

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