MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco do Africa, Arab world proud at Women's World Cup

MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco do Africa, Arab world proud at Women's World Cup
This week saw Morocco's Atlas Lionesses knocked out of the FIFA Women's World Cup, and a new season of the now star-studded Saudi Pro League get underway.
4 min read
12 August, 2023
Morocco's team made history despite losing in the last 16 to France [The New Arab]

Their run may have been short, but it sure burned right. The Moroccan women's football team, who surpassed all expectations by making it to the last 16 of the FIFA Women's World Cup, were knocked out by France.

Elsewhere in the footballing world, the Saudi Pro League, loaded with big-name players purchased over the summer, saw a new season get underway.

Women’s World Cup: Morocco do Africa, Arab world proud despite last 16 loss

Morocco’s run at the Women’s World Cup came to an end this week with a 4-0 defeat to France. The Atlas Lionesses might not have managed to make the tournament’s quarter-finals, but their history-making run at the tournament has seen them win the hearts of many.

France’s defence was all but impenetrable in Tuesday’s round of 16 match, and they were able to deal heavy blows to the Atlas Lionesses early. They scored three times in the first half, with goals from Kadidiatou Diani, Kenza Dali and Eugénie Le Sommer.

Le Sommer – France’s highest scorer of all time, male or female – scored a fourth goal in the second half, taking her goal tally for her country to 92.

Several Morocco players were visibly distraught following the loss. Nouhaila Benzina was seen wiping her tears multiple times, while Elodie Nakkach broke down in tears following her post-match interview on Moroccan television.

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Morocco might have been the weaker side, but sporadic moments of excellence were a sign that the future is brighter than ever for women’s football in the North African country. The Atlas Lionesses can leave Australia with their head held high, having fiercely represented Arab and African football in a tournament largely dominated by North American and European teams.

Tuesday’s game saw hijab-wearing defender Benzina, the first player to don the Islamic headscarf at the Women’s World Cup, play in her third match of the tournament. Benzina’s wearing of the hijab drew criticism among French far-right politicians and media, with journalist Philippe Guibert calling her “regressive” for her choice.

Nonetheless, the 25-year-old has been described as a role model for many Muslim girls and women for representing veiled women on the world stage. Since her appearance at the tournament, the popular FIFA 23 game has introduced a hijab for Benzina, whose character was previously without a headscarf. She is the first hijab-wearing footballer to feature in the game.

On Thursday, the team, coach Reynald Pedros and their staff were greeted by the cheers of fans, celebratory music, and security force escort after touching down at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport.

Pedros has now set his sights on getting the talented team to the women’s football competition at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

"It is beyond fantastic. We only started building this team three years ago. There are so many things that make us proud even though we have been knocked out,” he told reporters.

"We have the Olympic qualifiers to prepare for and we have gained experience from this. I am really, really proud to be coach of this team because we have fantastic players."

There are two places in the Olympics for teams from Africa. Morocco will face Namibia and Zambia later this year in the qualifying matches.

Saudi Pro League: Season starts amid spending spree

The new season for Saudi Arabia’s top-flight football league began Friday night, after a summer of big-name purchases.

A hattrick from Roberto Firmino gave Al-Ahli a 3-1 win over Al-Hazm in the season opener for the Saudi Pro League.

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Karim Benzema, N’golo Kante, Sadio Mane, and Jordan Henderson are among the highest-profile signings to the league so far, thanks in part to cash from the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In the latest purchase, Al-Ahli has bought Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie for £11 million (US$14m) in a deal finalised on Wednesday. The Saudi club has already signed Brazilian star Firmino from Liverpool, Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Chelsea, and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City.


The league has also undergone a major restructuring, with four of the league’s biggest clubs, including Al-Ahli, now under the ownership of the PIF.

The changes to the Pro League are part of Saudi Vision 2030 — the Saudi Crown Prince’s plan to transform the country and its economy by the end of the decade.

As part of Vision 2030, Riyadh has said it wants the Saudi Pro League to be among the ten best leagues in the world.

Though the new season has gotten underway, fresh signings could still be made, as the Saudi transfer window is open until 20 September.

This is much to the chagrin of some European managers, who say it is unfair that the Saudis have three more weeks than Europe to make new purchases.