Wafcon 2022: South Africa face challenge of hosts Morocco in final

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Morocco captain Ghizlane Chebbak celebrates a goal while Refiloe Jane controls the ballEither Morocco captain Ghizlane Chebbak or South Africa's Refiloe Jane will lift the Women's Africa Cup of Nations trophy
Venue: Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat Date: Saturday, 23 July Kick-off: 20:00 GMT

South Africa coach Desiree Ellis says her side will not be overawed by a partisan crowd when Banyana Banyana take on hosts Morocco in the final of the Women's Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) on Saturday night.

South Africa have been runners-up at the tournament on four previous occasions, while the North Africans have reached the final on their return to the continental stage after a 22-year absence.

Over 45,000 people - a record attendance for a women's game in Africa - watched the Atlas Lionesses overcome Nigeria in the semi-final but Ellis is backing her squad to deal with the atmosphere in Rabat.

"We've played at the World Cup and we played at the biggest stadium in Brazil, when the fans were just as hostile," the 59-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.

"I think the players are mature enough. They play at big clubs, they know the situation. They know what they need, what it's all about."

Morocco boss Reynald Pedros has won two Women's European Champions League titles with Lyon and believes his side's performances and levels of support have shown the growth of the women's game in the country.

"I think if we had a stadium of 60,000 or 70,000 capacity, it would be full," the Frenchman, who took charge in 2020, said.

"That's the success of these players, this federation, the national women's team - and it must continue - but whatever happens, this Wafcon has already been a success."

Ramalepe stresses need for teamwork

South Africa celebrate their winning goal against Zambia in their Wafcon semi-finalSouth Africa have a perfect record at this year's Wafcon finals, winning all five games in their bid for a first-ever continental title

Morocco forward Rosella Ayane, who scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out win against Nigeria, says that home support has been a big factor in their run to a maiden final.

"They've come out in absolute numbers," the 26-year-old told BBC Afrique.

"The crowd really gives you an extra boost when maybe you're feeling a bit low, or you're trying to run for that extra ball. I just really hope that it continues to grow football for women in Africa."

South Africa defender Lebogang Ramalepe, meanwhile, expects a "crazy" atmosphere in the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium.

"The only thing that kept us strong as a team is the unity," she told the BBC World Service.

"The home crowd is not going to be on our side. So we just need to be there for each other.

"As a team, we've come so close (to winning Wafcon) so many times. The only thing that we need to do is to stay focused."

Award-winner Ellis pays tribute to squad

South Africa coach Desiree Ellis on the touchline during the Wafcon semi-final against ZambiaDesiree Ellis has been in charge of South Africa since 2016 and retained her Confederation of African Football women's coach of the year award on Thursday

South Africa have won all five games in Morocco, although they needed a contentious late penalty to beat Zambia in their last-four tie on Monday.

Ellis, who has been named Africa's women's coach of the year for the third successive time, says her players must take credit for reaching back-to-back Wafcon finals.

"They deserve everything that's coming to them," she said.

"The final is dedicated to the players, because they've worked very, very hard to get there. They've qualified us for the World Cup and now it's their day. They have to go out and enjoy it.

"You have to give your level best and leave everything on the field. Make sure that when you walk off that pitch, irrespective of the result, that you've given everything."

Midfielder Thalea Smidt, who won the inaugural African women's Champions League title with Mamelodi Sundowns last November, is hoping Banyana Banyana can finally break their duck after final defeats in 2000, 2008, 2012 and 2018.

"It's definitely about time. I don't know how many finals we have to play to actually clinch the trophy," she told the BBC's World Football podcast.

"It's going to go down to who wants it more. This is my first time at the Wafcon, and just hearing from those that have been here before, you definitely know that now is the time.

"There's no looking back. There's no next time, the opportunity is now and we need to try and grab it with both hands. There won't be any second chances. It's now or never."

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