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Focus is vital for Banyana in Awcon final

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Banyana will have to drown out the hostile crowd in Morocco

Banyana Banyana players during the 2022 Womens Africa Cup Of Nations Banyana Banyana training session at Complex Mohamed VI De Football, Rabat on 03 July 2022. Picutre: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

BANYANA Banyana’s drive for Women’s Africa Cup of Nations glory on Saturday could be hijacked by the hostility of obstreperous Moroccan fans, notorious for shining laser pointers, and a French-born coach Reynald Pedros hell-bent on guiding his charges to African football nirvana.

Saturday’s final will mark South Africa’s sixth final appearance in 11 tournaments and first after four competitions. There is broad daylight between Banyana (58) and Morocco (77) on the world rankings.

However, a few days ago, Morocco showed scant regard for the rankings after dumping 11-time champions Nigeria (39) out of the competition after their historic semi-final win. It was the first time the ever-improving Morocco had moved beyond the quarter-final round at a Wafcon.

Hosts Morocco have emerged as the surprise package at the tournament. Prior to their semi-final triumph, Morocco completed the group phase undefeated.

Banyana were the only other team to match that feat.

It is worth noting that Morocco showed remarkable character after the semi-final setback of a second-half own goal by Yasmin Mrabet, their Spanish-born midfielder. The own goal came at a time when Nigeria had been reduced to 10 players after a red card.

They stormed back minutes later through striker Sanaa Mssoudy to equalise. Nigeria finished the match with nine players, but they could not deny Morocco from prevailing 5-4 in the eventual penalty shoot-out.

Throughout the match, their coach Pedros, a 25-time capped French midfielder, considered to be on par with the great Zinedine Zidane patrolled his technical area and calmly directed operations by showing his players what they should do.

After the match, Pedros said he knew what was needed to take down Nigeria, but he placed a huge emphasis on the role of the supporters who were rather vocal in a crowd of 45,562 fans. It was the biggest crowd ever at a women’s football match on the African continent.

“I want to thank the fans. The atmosphere helped us a lot. It was amazing – they were the 12th, 13th or even 14th player,” said Pedros after defeating Nigeria.

“We are very ambitious and when we see this number of fans who are encouraging the players in the way that they did, it helps to motivate and inspire the team.”

Pedros said his team will be up for the final and after five matches at the tournament, the team will be ready to face Banyana. “We have played against different opponents that play different styles and this means that we have to find solutions,” said Pedros. “We always prepare for this and grow into the game and that helps us going forward.”

There were many reports of Moroccan fans shining laser lights on the Nigerians while the penalty shoot-out was in progress.

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