Morocco’s recent success at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 could be “massive” for the region in the coming years, according to England and Manchester City star Lauren Hemp.
The 23-year-old player and her club colleague and Australia international Mary Fowler were in Abu Dhabi as part of City Football Schools and spoke of the North African nation’s progress at the World Cup, the rise of women’s football in the Middle East, and Manchester City’s targets for the season.
On the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand, Fowler said: “I think the really nice thing about this World Cup was seeing how many of the teams outperformed and outdid their own expectations.
“It was really nice to see how much growth there was in terms of the level of the countries that people might not expect much from. Instead, they were really competing at a high level and really challenging the top teams.
“It happened to us with Nigeria, where they beat us, and they were a really good team which most might not have expected previously. So, I think it’s nice to just have a World Cup where that’s the level you see in every match. Now it’s entertaining to watch because both teams can win it,” she added.
On Morocco women’s World Cup success and its impact on the Arab world, Hemp said: “It’s massive for the game and the region. Obviously, the growth in the women’s game has been huge, especially over the last few years, more than anything we’ve seen ever before.
“And it just shows where the game’s going. It’s becoming so much more competitive. So many more people are taking up playing football, and that’s so important.
“Obviously the further you go up the ladder, it’s becoming more competitive and that’s around the world – even in the youth tournaments like the Abu Dhabi Cup.
“And it’s a great place that the women’s game is at because like Mary said, like every game you go into, you don’t know if you’re going to win. It’s so competitive and that’s what we want.
“We want people on the edge of their seats watching the games and coming to support women’s football because obviously it’s great at the moment and it’s great to be a part of.
“We’re heading in the right direction. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re already getting there and getting there quickly,” she added.
Women’s football leagues have also seen rapid growth throughout the Middle East.
Hemp said: “I think especially since the World Cup and the Euros as well, the uptake in the amount of people playing and participating in football worldwide has been great to see. Even the pro leagues here in England and the new ones we are seeing, like in the Middle East, is really good to see.
“I was speaking to my sister who is a teacher, and she was telling me about the number of kids who signed up for an open invitation for a football activity after school. There were 64 girls that went. A couple of years ago, you’d be lucky to get a five-a-side squad when I was at school. We couldn’t even make up a team. So, it’s just incredible to see.
“I think it being more visible as well is so much better for kids to be able to see their role models playing on TV and knowing that it is possible.
“And for programs like City Football Schools to be available and for them to be seeing that pathway is important for them to know it’s possible too, no matter where you come from,” Hemp added.
Manchester City have had an unbeaten start to the Women’s Super League season.
Fowler, 20, said: “I think I’m just really excited about where our team can get to. I think last season we had quite a lot of changes with a fair amount of new people coming in, and I think it took us a bit of time to really gel as a team.
“But having only signed one player, it’s so much more fluid out on the pitch. And I think everyone is able to connect with each other off the pitch, which definitely helps on the pitch as well. I feel we’re so much more of a team just because we’ve had more time together.
“And of course, there’s a lot of trophies for us to try and win, and we are aiming for all of them. I do think it’s possible for us to go for that,” Fowler added.
On targets for the season, Hemp said: “Champions League is definitely the aim for us. We have our sights set firmly on the league title. That’s something I haven’t won yet in my career, so I’m hungrier than ever to do that.
“And with this group of players, they’re so special. Last season, we didn’t achieve what we wanted to, but I feel like this season you’re seeing a different side of us.
“We’ve been playing some great football, especially in recent weeks over the first few games, and it’s important that we start really well.
“We want to make a statement in this league, and I feel like teams are now afraid of us, and we want people to come here and know that they’re not going to get an easy result.
“We’re unbeaten in I think 16 games at home. Obviously unbeaten at home last season too, which was massive.
“So, that’s important for us to hold on to. And we’re going for every trophy this season and we want to make sure we get to that stage because last season we were just off it. So, we want to make sure that we’re in and amongst it at the top this season,” Hemp added.
Source: Arab News