Friday, December 2 2022

A first continental crown awaits the winner of the Nations Cup final on Saturday evening between Morocco and South Africa.

South Africa will try to hoist the crown after five failures in the showdown dating back to 2000.

The team that lost to Nigeria in that final at the turn of the century was led by current South African coach Desiree Ellis.

She was at the helm when South Africa lost – again to Nigeria – in a penalty shootout in the 2018 final.

Four years later, after beating Zambia in the semi-finals, they will face the team that eliminated Nigeria in a grueling semi-final at the Prince Moulay Abdallah stadium in Rabat.

Chance

“We owe each other another chance after being so close in 2018,” Ellis said.

“And it’s not just about the current group of players, it’s about the players and the coaches who were there in 2018 who have come closer and obviously it’s about the people at home.”

Ellis, 59, has shaped a collective spirit in the team that is embraced as eagerly by skipper Refiloe Jane as it is by newcomers such as Thalea Smidt.

“If I had to single out one player for praise in the team, it would be the whole group because they were absolutely magnificent,” Ellis added without an ounce of irony in the language of football.

The technical study group (TSG) – tactical brains trust in Nations Cup 14 match tracking – highlighted the finalists’ smooth transition play during a Tuesday preview of their work.

“Morocco, South Africa and Zambia are probably the best examples,” said TSG member Clémentine Touré, who coaches the Ivorian women’s national team.

“They build in the back, play along the aisles or in the middle.”

Style

A header is then likely to settle the clash to demystify such an analysis. But the presence in the final of two teams looking to dominate possession could provide the stylistic template for federations sending kits into the future. Nations Cup competitions.

“Too much pressure has been placed on individual players by coaches, other players and the media,” added TSG member Jacqui Shipanga.

“But if we start to improve the quality of teamwork, we are going to see a different kind of football on the continent,” she added.

“Of course there will always be a role for talent and if that talent is enhanced by the rest of the team then we won’t be as dependent on that individual.”

Ideal

Coach of Morocco Reynald Pedros would be likely to feature skipper Ghizlane Chebbak as Exhibit A for such a tangle.

The 31-year-old midfielder scored three of Morocco’s eight goals as they progressed to the final. She also won Woman of the Match three times for her calm authority and clever distribution of the ball.

“It was a huge thing for Moroccan football to reach the semi-finals and qualify for the first time for world Cup“, Pedros added.

“The question then was whether the players would be happy with that or try to find more in themselves to go further.”

It was a battle even after Nigeria sent off two players for dangerous challenges.

Progress

Morocco couldn’t break through the dogged defense and nearly fell to a punch with minutes remaining in extra time when Gift Monday’s breakaway run and snap shot rattled the crossbar.

But Morocco claimed the penalty shootout 5-4.

“South Africa are a good team,” said Pedros. “And I think it will be a good final and a great advertisement for the African game.

“It will be a difficult game but we hope to play well for everyone.”

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