For the first time in history, South Africa are champions of Africa. They defeated the 2022 WAFCON hosts Morocco in front of a hostile crowd.
Banyana Banyana had to hold out during a nervy end as Morocco threw everything at them. But the five-time finalists held on for a thoroughly deserved win.
Magaia magic makes the difference
South Africa did not have an easy journey to the trophy they have coveted since their first WAFCON final appearance in 2000. They had to beat all three other semi-finalists on their trip to this year’s final. But once again, Desiree Ellis got it right when it mattered most against the best opposition.
More than 60,000 fans were trying to get into the 45,000-capacity stadium to watch the game—creating the most incredible atmosphere ever seen in women’s football. The crowd booed and whistled every touch from the South African side. And flares and lasers were present throughout the match. But the South Africans were not rattled.Embed from Getty Images
All the nerves apparent in South Africa’s quarterfinal and semi-final victories were gone. Instead, the team showed composure and maturity, leading them to defeat their inexperienced opponents. From start to finish, South Africa were more than a match for their hosts and were a class above.
Ellis was brave in her team selection, deciding to play with a front three to nullify the real threat carried by Morocco’s wingbacks, and it worked like a charm. With Hildah Magaia and Noxolo Cesane pinning the fullbacks—and Nomvula Kgoale marking Ghizlane Chebbak—all of Morocco’s threats in the build up were nullified.
And it was Magaia who made the difference. The winger was only fit enough to play one half against Zambi, which proved to be the difference in that game. But in the WAFCON final, she was the game changer again for South Africa.Embed from Getty Images
With her pace and intelligent movement, the Korean-based winger was a threat throughout. She also developed an excellent relationship with Jermaine Seoposenwe. The centre forward often would drop deep to create space to release Magaia in behind. Late during the first half, they gave the Moroccans a scare when they combined to play Magaia through on goal. But Khadija Er-Rmichi was quick off her line to smother the shot.
Still, the home side did not heed the threat. Just after the hour mark, Seoposenwe got in behind Yasmin Mrabet. Her pull back found the oncoming Magaia, who slotted the ball home. Ten minutes later, Magaia was allowed through on goal again after the centre back failed to stop a cross. This time, Magaia clipped a delicate finish over the onrushing Er-Rmichi.
Morocco meet their match
Despite coming close to finding the all-important equaliser in the dying minutes, Morocco were, in truth, outclassed for the first time.
Morocco have been a joy to watch this tournament. Fuelled by the passion of their fans, they have been a well-organised unit that create quality chances going forward.
But as coach Reynald Pedros conceded after the match, they simply came up against a team that was better than them on a night full of passion. Desiree Ellis is the master of nullifying the opposition team’s strengths, and she did that expertly once again. Without their fullbacks and a shackled Chebbak, the Atlas Lionesses saw South Africa reduce them to playing long balls, which were comfortably dealt with by the visitors.
The only threat Morocco genuinely carried was in Fatima Tagnaout. The winger again showed that she is one of Africa’s most gifted footballers. Particularly in the first half, she was giving Lebohang Ramalepe a torrid time on the flank.Embed from Getty Images
They got back into the game thanks to a Ramelepe mistake. But they never looked like scoring—aside from another huge gift from South Africa—and had to settle for second place in their first WAFCON appearance in 22 years.
The Moroccans can be very proud of their performance and their progress. In 18 months, they have gone from obscurity to the peak of African football. They are going to their first-ever World Cup next year. And if they can continue investing in the team and keep coach Pedros, they will only become more and more a force to be reckoned with in women’s football.
But on a night of flares, lasers and cacophonic noise, Banyana Banyana shone brightest and slew the demons of four previous final losses.