Morocco have written their names in the history books by recording their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ goal and picking up their first ever win at the tournament against Korea Republic. Not only that, but the Atlas Lionesses know that qualifying for the last 16 now in their hands.
Following a heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Germany, many expected the North Africans to struggle in their remaining group games. However, under the stewardship of coach Reynald Pedros, they kick-started their tournament with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Korea Republic. Now, the narrative is about an historic achievement rather than an demoralising defeat, much to the joy of the Moroccan people.
Pedros rang the changes in both defence and attack for the match against Korea Republic, with the players he brought into the team playing key roles to justify his decision making.
With a completely different pairing in central defence, Morocco looked much more solid at the back. Sarah Kassi and Yasmin Mrabet dropped to the bench, replaced by Nesryne El Chad and Nouhaila Benzina, both of whom performed well and helped their side keep a clean sheet.
In attack, Rosella Ayane and Anissa Lahmari were replaced by Ibtissam Jraidi and Salma Amani. The pair quickly justified their selection, with Jraidi netting the only goal after just six minutes.
Against Germany, it felt as though Morocco’s only plan was to rely on their defence and catch their opponents on the break. Needing a win against the Taegeuk Ladies, they could no longer rely on such a tactic.
This time, Pedros opted for more of a possession game, with greater emphasis on building up from the back and off-the-ball movement to create openings in the opposition defence. The tactical change proved successful, with Morocco taking nine shots on goal and recording 113 line breaks.
One of Morocco’s biggest issues against Germany was their positioning when defending crosses. However, the Atlas Lionesses dealt with them much better against Korea Republic, thanks in no small part to the new centre-back pairing. Benzina was particularly key, using her height and leadership skills to great effect.
Morocco also looked to cross the ball in down the other end, attempting 13 in total. Indeed, it was a cross that Jraidi headed home to score their goal, while another almost yielded a second goal shortly afterwards.
Playing the game and not the occasion
Just minutes into their opener, it was clear the Moroccans were feeling the pressure of maiden Women’s World Cup match, particularly faced with the overwhelming experience and strength of Germany. That psychological anxiety surely played a part in their heavy opening defeat.
Now free from that pressure, Morocco played much more like their usual selves against the Koreans, ultimately securing a historic victory.
Unlike in their opener, when the Atlas Lionesses appeared incapable of physically matching Germany, they were able to outmuscle and outpace the Taegeuk Ladies. Pedros’ side won far more duels this time out and were quicker to transition from defence to attack and vice versa.