South Africa won its first women’s African Cup of Nations (CAN) on Saturday in Rabat by beating Morocco in the final 2-1, thanks to a brace from striker Hildah Magaia.
The South African striker, untenable throughout the meeting, thus offers the Banyana Banyana their first CAN after five lost finals. « They wanted to win this cup so badly and now it’s done »rejoiced Desiree Ellis, the South African coach, who welcomed the « team character ».
The two teams had come to the break 0-0 after a balanced first half without a spark – apart from the cracking of smoke bombs emitting thick smoke above the pitch. In the second half, the well-organised South Africans looked fresher than their dull rivals.
Magaia first took over with a flat foot a center back in the 63e minute, then did it again eight minutes later by poking the ball over Moroccan goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi. Tottenham player Rosella Ayane reduced the score for the Atlas Lionesses to 80e minute. But too late. Despite the Moroccans’ pressing, the solid South African defense held on until the end of nine minutes of extra time.
“We would have liked to win this CAN but we were tired”, acknowledged Lionesses coach Reynald Pedros after the match. This final was played in oppressive heat, forcing the players to hydrate regularly, in a packed Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium (45,000 spectators). With three injuries and six changes of players in total, the meeting left its mark on the organizations.
The first Arab country to reach the final of the women’s CAN, Morocco leaves the competition with its head held high after eliminating Nigeria, the favorite team, already multi-crowned and defending champion. Like South Africa, it will participate in the Women’s World Cup in a year’s time in Australia and New Zealand.