Morocco’s presence in the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup is a dream come true for the tournament debutants, and a clash with a much-fancied France side makes Tuesday’s game a particularly special occasion for their coach.
Reynald Pedros, 51, is a former France international midfielder who played alongside Zinedine Zidane in the team that reached the semi-finals at Euro 96.
In recent years he has made a name as a coach in the women’s game, spending two seasons in charge of Lyon, the club that has dominated in France and Europe over the last decade.
He won back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles in charge of Lyon, with a side containing the likes of Wendie Renard, Eugenie Le Sommer, Selma Bacha and Amel Majri — who will all feature for France in Adelaide on Tuesday.
“I know this France team perfectly, which is an advantage,” Pedros said after Morocco pulled off one of the great major tournament shocks to qualify from their group at the expense of former champions Germany.
“They are a very strong team with experienced, top-level players.”
Six members of the France squad in Australia played under Pedros at Lyon, with captain Renard, Le Sommer, Bacha and Majri joined by goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin and midfielder Kenza Dali.
“It’s going to be a bit of a reunion, so it will be a special moment,” said Le Sommer, the 34-year-old striker who is France’s all-time top scorer.
“Football is surprising. If you had said to me when he left Lyon that we would meet again in the last 16 of the World Cup, especially with him in charge of Morocco, I would not have believed it.
“He knows the France team inside out, with the players he coached at Lyon and those he came up against.”
Pedros also won consecutive French domestic crowns and a French Cup when in charge of Lyon.
Le Sommer added: “He did great things with us, winning titles. It was by no means insignificant.”
– ‘Winning mentality’ –
Pedros, who won a French title as a player with Nantes in 1995 and helped them reach the Champions League semi-finals the following year, began working with the Moroccan football federation in late 2020.
He has helped oversee the development of women’s football in the country and took the team to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil last year, via which they qualified for the World Cup.
“He has brought great experience, stability and a winning mentality,” Nassim El Kerf, a journalist with the Moroccan news website Le Desk, told AFP.
“He has been a key figure in the development strategy for women’s football in Morocco and has made himself popular thanks to his results.”
Victories against South Korea and Colombia, after a 6-0 hammering by Germany in their opening game, have seen Morocco make history at the tournament -– no Arab team had won a Women’s World Cup match before.
But beating France — whose own coach Herve Renard spent three years in charge of the Moroccan men’s team between 2016 and 2019 –- would be a remarkable achievement for the side ranked 72nd in the world.
“We are going to try and cause them a few problems,” Pedros said.
“It has been an incredible World Cup, full of surprises. That is the magic of sport at the highest level. You never know what is going to happen.”