Just four years after being formed, Sporting Club Casablanca now have a chance to become footballing champions of Africa.
The Moroccan club, who began life in the third tier, qualified for the third edition of the Women’s African Champions League after triumphing in North Africa’s regional qualifier.
The eight-team final tournament is being held in Ivory Coast this month, and the side from Casablanca will begin their campaign against hosts Athletico Abidjan in Sunday’s opening match.
“It’s a very special moment for us,” Sporting Club president Moad Oukacha told BBC Sport Africa.
“From day one nobody was thinking that after four years we will be in the top eight clubs in Africa.
“All the teams in Africa dream to play in this competition and fight to play in this competition. We have to be proud of what we have done.”
AS FAR savour first Women’s Champions League crown
Sporting Club are one of five sides making their debut this year alongside Athletico, Ghana’s Ampem Darkoa, Tanzanian club JKT Queens and Equatoguinean outfit Huracanes.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and we are not taking this for granted,” Ampem Darkoa boss Eric Asoma told BBC Sport Africa.
“The players are very happy that they have the platform to showcase their talent. Even if it is our debut, we expect to go far and we are looking to compete for the trophy.”
Defending champions AS FAR, inaugural winners Mamelodi Sundowns and AS Mande of Mali round out the field as the tournament is staged outside of North Africa for the first time.
As in the first two editions, teams are split into two groups and will face three group fixtures before the top two qualify for the semi-finals.
Matches will be played in Korhogo and San Pedro, two cities which are also hosting games during next year’s men’s Africa Cup of Nations, with the final to be held at the Stade Amadou Gon Coulibaly in Korhogo on Sunday 19 November.
‘Not enough investment’
Young girls in yellow kit training in Casablanca
Sporting Club Casablanca have benefitted from funds from the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, allowing them to run under-13, under-15 and under-17 teams for girls
The winners will once again earn $400,000 (£330,000) from the Confederation of African Football (Caf) – one tenth of the sum received by the victors of the men’s African Champions League.
The total prize fund remains at $1.1m (£907,000) as per the second edition in 2022. The inaugural event in 2021 did not offer a financial reward.
“We are not here to compare between men and women and how much they get, but I hope that every year we will see an increase,” Oukacha said.
“It is only the third edition of the Champions League. I think Caf has to work on a plan in order to increase this amount by increasing the importance of this competition by increasing the number of teams playing.”
The Women’s African Champions League sees fewer games played than the men’s competition, which has four groups of four with home-and-away matches before eight teams progress to the knockout stage, where two-legged ties are played.
Those games take place throughout the season, rather than in a three-week window allocated for the women’s tournament.
“Women’s football in Africa is still developing and there’s not enough investment,” Ampem Darkoa boss Asoma added.
“But I see this competition gradually catching the eyeballs of investors or sponsors and I believe this will help grow women’s football.”
Oukacha believes the strength of the women’s game in Africa could be improved by allowing more clubs to enter regional qualifiers, or even adding a second continental competition like the men’s Caf Confederation Cup.
Sporting Club thrashed Egyptian club Wadi Degla, hosts of the 2021 Champions League, 6-1 on the way to winning the four-team Union of North African Football Federation qualifier.
“If we increase the number of teams playing in the zone (qualifier), the day we want to increase the number of teams in the final stage we will have more teams prepared,” said Oukacha.
“I think the first step is to increase the number of teams playing the zone stage and then plan for an increase for the final stage, or why not a second competition like we do for the men?”
However, Kanizat Ibrahim, the chairperson of women’s football at Caf, believes the Women’s African Champions League has “redefined” the women’s game on the continent.
“The third edition is a big reminder of how far we have come,” she claimed.
“When this event was launched in 2021, it was a bold step in the right direction. It has enabled us to provide new opportunities for women to play football and participate at the highest level.”
Women’s African Champions League 2023 draw
Group A: Athletico Abidjan (Ivory Coast, hosts), Sporting Club Casablanca (Morocco), JKT Queens (Tanzania), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa).
Group B: AS FAR (Morocco, holders), Ampem Darkoa (Ghana), Huracanes FC (Equatorial Guinea), AS Mande (Mali).