Morocco qualify for 2023 World Cup thanks to set-pieces

Team Morocco players celebrate during their 2–1 Africa Cup of Nations victory over Botswana.

Morocco are into their first ever semi-final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON). The team booked their place in the 2023 World Cup last night, following a narrow 2-1 victory over Botswana.

The hosts have won all four of their WAFCON matches. While they look like one of the tournament’s best teams, they have yet to score a single goal from open play.

All you need are free kicks, a Moroccan guide to winning the WAFCON

Tournament football is often about the fine margins. When a coach has limited time to create a style of play or philosophy, they look for the easiest ways to create goals. We have repeatedly seen that on the biggest stages. It’s not the teams that play the best football that win, but rather the teams that take the best corners.

In Morocco’s case, it’s freekicks. Three penalties, three indirect freekicks, and one direct freekick are all you need to make it to the final four of Africa’s premiere competition if you are Morocco. The Atlas Lionesses’ tough defence, coupled with the magic of Ghizlane Chebbak, is all they need to win every match.

Chebbak has the strongest claim to being the best player at the tournament so far. She was selected as Player of the Group Stage and followed that up with a Player of the Match performance against Botswana.

The daughter of Larbi Chebbak, who won Morocco’s only men’s AFCON title in 1976, has led her team, both as a captain and goal scorer.

But Chebbak’s stellar delivery at dead ball situations has set her apart from her competition. She has already scored three, grabbed an assist, and consistently puts the ball on her teammates’ heads from any delivery angle.

Fatima Tagnaout joins the free kick fun

If one brilliant set piece taker wasn’t enough. The Moroccans showed that they actually have two. Fatima Tagnaout impressed in the group stage with her movement and her ability to cut inside onto her left foot and find her teammates from any distance.

But against Botswana, she showed that her accuracy is not limited to when she is on the move. The Moroccans scored two freekicks from near-identical positions. The first was a whipped freekick from the right wing clipped home by Tagnaout’s AS FAR Rabat teammate Sanaa Mssoudy.

Tagnaout attempted a very similar flat cross for the second, but it was blocked by the wall. She then followed up with the ball and played a delightfully clipped cross that Yasmin Mrabet met to send the hosts to the 2023 World Cup.

Morocco have looked very laboured at times in this tournament. They struggled to break down Burkina Faso, struggled with Senegal’s physicality, and again found it very hard to get through the Botswanan defence. But in every match, they have found a way to score from dead ball situations.

Looking ahead

The Moroccans are expected to face South Africa in the semi-final, which will be an entirely different test for the hosts. They will be underdogs in the match and will not be able to dominate the ball as they have so far.

Potentially the deeper they have to play, the more space they will have to exploit, and they will be able to create more chances on the break. But South Africa are one of the most organised sides in the competition and will not concede chances lightly.

South Africa also has one of the smallest sides in the tournament. None of their players can match Mrabet or her centre-back partner Nesryne El Chad for height. So Morocco’s path forward already looks set. They must win fouls in South Africa’s half and let Chebbak and Tagnaout do what they do.

Morocco lack the fluid attacking patterns of South Africa, they don’t have the same individual quality that the Nigerians possess, and they can’t match the Zambians for pace or clinical finishing. But Morocco will back themselves against any team thanks to the one thing they do better than any team in the competition, set-pieces.

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