MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco prepare for Women's World Cup

MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco prepare for Women's World Cup
Morocco are the Arab World's big hope for the women's World Cup, with the team playing a friendly against Jamaica in a final warm-up.
4 min read
22 July, 2023
Women’s World Cup debutantes Morocco are set to play their first match of the tournament on Monday [TNA]

Football has been the talk of the MENA region this week, but it's not just down to more big signings in the Saudi Pro League, but also the participation of Morocco in the Women's World Cup 2024 in Australia and New Zealand.

Morocco are the only team from the Arab world taking part in the tournament and will face tough competition from giants of the game such as the US and England.

Saudi football side Al-Ahli are meanwhile looking for an expert hand to guide their team through the 2023-24 Pro League Season, after making a raft of new signings to prepare them for their return to top-flight fooball.

In Algeria, MENA track-and-field teams gathered for the 2023 Arab Games, with the host nation winning the biggest haul of medals in this year's tournament.

FIFA Women's World Cup: hope for the minnows?

Women’s World Cup debutantes Morocco are set to play their first match of the tournament on Monday, when they face Germany. 

It’ll be some feat if the Atlas Lionesses, ranked 72nd in the world in the official rankings, are able to take any points off of the Germans, who are seen as serious contenders for the trophy.

There is hope for the tournament’s underdog teams, though.

Co-hosts New Zealand scored a historic victory in the tournament’s opening match, beating Norway 1-0 to secure their first ever win at the World Cup.

Germany have been weakened by the loss of key players Marina Hegering and Lena Oberdorf through injury, and Die Nationalelf also suffered a shock defeat to Namibia in a warm-up friendly two weeks ago. Morocco manager Reynald Pedros promised his team would try to surprise us, and Monday’s match might be just the time for it.

The Lionesses are the first team from the Middle East and North Africa region to ever have made it to the tournament, and that feat is proving to be a source of inspiration to players from other Muslim-majority countries.

The Atlas Lionesses were watched at a public training session on Wednesday by members of the Afghanistan national women’s football team.

The Afghan team is currently based in Melbourne, after being evacuated from Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the country in 2021.

"This is a huge chance for the Moroccan team to show the world that Muslim women in every single country can participate,” Associated Press reported Afghan player Farida, who wanted to use one name, as saying.

The Taliban barred women from participating in sports in Afghanistan, and the team are no longer government-sanctioned. The Afghan players have called on FIFA to recognise their team so that they can compete internationally.

We’ll also see Arab woman representation at the tournament through Heba Saadieh, who is set to become the first Palestinian referee ever to officiate at a World Cup

Coach to Jeddah

After spending millions on attracting some of biggest names in football, Saudi clubs are now looking to poach managers from the Premier League to add gel to their quickly-assembled sides.

Al-Ahli have approached Fulham manager Marco Silva to manage a side recently promoted from the Saudi First Division, and replete with talented Saudi youngsters and veteran former Premier League players such as Édouard Mendy and Roberto Firmino.

Such contrasting dynamics will require an expert hand to guide them through the Saudi Pro League after a season languishing in the kingdom's second-flight where competition was somewhat slim.

After a recent cash boost from the state-owned Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and some huge names signing for Al-Ahli, the Jeddah club appear serious about regaining their reputation as one of Saudi Arabia's giants despite recent set-backs.

Despite initially turning down interest from Al-Ahli, Silva could still be wooed with a two-year contract worth up to £40 million and is currently speaking to Fulham's chairman about a move, according to UK media.

It follows the signing of another former Premier League manager Steven Gerrard by Dammam side Al-Ettifaq while former Wolves coach Nuno Espírito Santo manages Al-Ahli's city rivals Al-Ittihad who boast Karim Benzema in their squad.

North African states sweep top spots at Arab Games

Hosts Algeria took top place at the Pan Arab Games, winning 253 medals across a number of events.

The games, which took place from July 5 - 15, saw the host nation secure 105 gold medals.

Algeria’s Hamza Yacine came first in the men’s individual road race with a time of 2 hours and 56 minutes 22 seconds, followed by the UAE’s Abdulla Jasim Al-Ali in second and Algeria’s Youcef Reguigui in third.

In volleyball, the Algerian women’s team triumphed over Tunisia to secure gold, while the men’s volleyball team finished second to Libya.

Tunisia took second place on the tournament table with 121 medals, including 23 gold, 47 silver and 51 bronze.

In third was Morocco with 84 medals, including 21 gold, 38 silver and 25 bronze.

The last day of the competition saw the announcement of Saudi Arabia as the hosts of the 2027 Pan Arab Games.

It will be the first time the Saudi Arabia hosts the competition since its inauguration in 1953.