WAFCON 2022: Hosts Morocco beat Burkina Faso in opening game

By Piers EdwardsBBC Sport Africa, Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat
Ghizlane Chebbak's goal separated the sides
Captain Ghizlane Chebbak's free-kick was enough to see off Burkina Faso

Hosts Morocco opened the Women's Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 win over debutants Burkina Faso in the capital Rabat.

Captain Ghizlane Chebbak's free-kick just before the half-hour was enough to earn the North Africans their first win in the competition for 24 years.

The strike lacked power but nonetheless deceived Burkinabe goalkeeper Mariam Ouattara, 19, who could have done better.

At their first Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in 22 years, the Moroccans next meet Uganda, also in Rabat, on Tuesday.

The second game in Group A will take place on Sunday when the Ugandan Cranes open their account against Senegal.

This was the first match at a WAFCON finals in four years after the 2020 edition was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, which the Confederation of African Football (Caf) had said it was reluctant to do.

The first finals to feature 12 teams, after Caf expanded the tournament in 2019, this WAFCON is also taking place on North African soil for the first time and a healthy crowd was in attendance after local organisers offered free entry to fans for all games.

Host nation Morocco is currently midway through an ambitious four-year investment plan into women's football, with the aim of hugely increasing the women's game's popularity in the country.

Little expense has been spared, as shown by the fact that Reynald Pedros, who led French side Lyon to two European Champions League titles in 2018 and 2019, was brought in as coach in late 2020.

He has been rebuilding the side ever since and although his team looked as if they would run away with the game at times, the former France international showed his frustration that the lead was never extended.

Nigeria's Asisat Oshoala, South African Thembi Kgatlana and Burundi's Falone Sumaili on the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations.

With far more limited resources than their wealthy rivals, Burkina Faso were playing their first competitive match since qualifying in February and the fatigue showed as early as the first half when one of their players went down for cramp, a scenario suffered by others after the break.

Nonetheless, the Burkinabe - who had never played an official women's fixture before 2007 - were still in the game late on and could have fashioned an unlikely draw but for some brave goalkeeping from Khedija Errmichi, who twice denied substitute Limata Nikiema late on.

At the other end, Tottenham Hotspur striker Rosella Ayane struggled to get into the game despite being presented with some presentable chances.

Midfielder Salma Amani, who impressed throughout, almost doubled Morocco's lead late in the first half only to fire over from close range after Assanatou Nako had cleared off the line, the first of two such saves from the Burkinabe defender.

Further chances came and went for Morocco, who will be relieved to have finally won their second game at the finals nearly a quarter of a century on from their first, when beating Egypt 4-1 in 1998.

Burkina Faso, who face Senegal on Tuesday, will look forward to an extra day of rest after their young and inexperienced squad, over half of which is 21 or younger and all but two of whom are based at home, admirably adapted to the bright lights of a major international competition for the first time.