Morocco and Botswana battle for firsts at Africa Cup of Nations

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Morocco boss Reynald Pedros urged his players on Tuesday to look beyond the glory of qualification for next year’s World Cup and focus on claiming a first women’s Africa Cup of Nations trophy.

A raucous partisan crowd is expected on Wednesday night at the Complex Sportif Prince Moulay Abdallah to accompany Morocco's quest for a double first.

No women's team from the country has progressed to the World Cup nor has a side reached a semi-final at the Cup of Nations since its inception in 1991.

With the 20222 tournament being used as the qualifying competition for next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the four semi-finalists will receive an automatic slot at the 32-team fest in 2023.

Even defeat in the last eight could lead to a berth in the antipodes. The losers on Wednesday and Thursday will play in a repechage and the winners of the one-off match will collect an intercontinental play-off place.

Guarantees

“The guarantees are to work and to rely on what we’ve done and what we’ve been doing well during the group stages,” said Pedros on the eve of the clash against a Botswana team which finished as one of the two best third-placed sides.

By contrast Morocco topped Group A following victories over Burkina Faso, Uganda and Senegal.

“We’ve got to continue to impose our game and to look for this qualification for the semis. But we must remember that the tournament doesn’t stop at the semis," added the 50-year-old Frenchman.

“We’re ambitious and if we reach the semis we must want to go even further.”

Despite scraping into the quarter-finals with one win and two defeats in Group C, Botswana coach Gaolethloo Nkutlwisang insisted that she and her players were relishing the challenge of facing the hosts and creating history with a debut in the last four at the Cup of Nations and at the World Cup.

Ready

“We are ready and we are prepared for the game against the hosts," she said. "It will be a tactical battle."

On paper and from the tournament, the fixture blares mismatch. Morocco are ranked eighth in Africa and 77th internationally. Botswana lie 75 places below the hosts in the Fifa lists.

Skipper Nondi Fingi Mahlasela said she and her teammates would not be cowed. “The team is ready to go into a bullfight," she added.

“I can honestly say that it is not going to be easy for Morocco. We are all looking for that spot in the World Cup. Something like that can change our lives and our football."

That kind of fury could unruffle the Moroccans who have projected a calmness during their procession to the quarter-finals.

“We’re going to apply all the things we’ve been doing in the pool stages to the game against Botswana,” said midfielder Elodie Nakkach.

“And essentially that’s going to be lots of work, concentration and to be serious.

"If we manage to produce the style of play we want to then there’s no reason why we won’t go into the semis. The team knows what it wants and we’re all focused on the same goal … qualification for the World Cup and then we’ll see."

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