Wafcon 2022: South Africa beat Morocco to win first title

3 weeks ago 390
Hilda MagaiahHilda Magaiah hit a brace for Banyana Banyana in the final

South Africa ended decades of heartbreak and four previous final failures when beating host nation Morocco 2-1 to win the Women's Africa Cup of Nations for the first time.

Hilda Magaia proved Banyana Banyana's hero, scoring two quick goals midway through the second half to finally guide South Africa over the line.

Although Rosella Ayane pulled a goal back for the Atlas Lionesses ten minutes from time, it was too little too late for a team making its first appearance in the final.

South Africa had lost their four previous finals, in 2000, 2008, 2012 and 2018.

For Banyana Banyana coach Desire Ellis, this was a hugely-satisfying win after first trying - and failing - as a player to win the trophy when losing the final 22 years ago.

After Ellis oversaw another final defeat, against Nigeria, four years ago from the touchline, her charges entered this tournament with a so-called 'mindset coach' in a bid to improve positivity.

They needed real composure throughout the game to silence a raucous home crowd that had filled the stadium at least two hours before kick-off, and which lit up the Rabat sky with dozens of red and white flares during the game.

Magaia's memorable moments

The first half was a tense affair, with no chances on target from either side, but the game burst into life when Magaia latched onto Jermaine Seoposenwe's cutback just after the hour to give South Africa their first ever lead in a Wafcon final.

Eight minutes later, Magaia made it two as she punished slack defence from Nesryne El Chad, who had otherwise impressed during this tournament, to flick the ball past Moroccan goalkeeper Khedija Err-michi for a crucial two-goal lead.

South AfricaSouth Africa celebrate after winning the Women's Africa Cup of Nations

Morocco coach Reynald Pedros rang the changes in a desperate bid to get back into the game and was rewarded when Tottenham Hotspur's Ayane reduced arrears to give the hosts belief, so ending goalkeeper Andile Dlamini's run of over six hours without conceding.

In the 98th minute, centre-back Yasmin Mrabet rose to meet a teasing cross from substitute Ghizlane Chirri but as the ball sailed over the crossbar, so Morocco's hopes of a shock title faded away.

Nonetheless, the host nation can reflect on not only staging a hugely-successful tournament but also achieving a maiden Women's World Cup qualification when reaching the semi-finals.

The North African nation has ambitious plans for the women's game, hoping to have 90,000 players and 1,000 licenced coaches by 2024, and this tournament has proved a watershed moment in terms of igniting support and changing perceptions towards the sport.

South Africa, meanwhile, have brought relief to a country ravaged by regular power cuts over the last six weeks and an unemployment rate approaching 35%.

Many of the squad sank to the floor in disbelief at the final whistle, as a repeatedly-elusive trophy finally found its way into delighted South African hands.

Banyana Banyana were the only side to win all six of their matches and will travel to next year's Women's World Cup as African champions, with not only Morocco but also third-placed Zambia and nine-time champions Nigeria joining them in the 2023 tournament.

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