How World Cup achievers Morocco can galvanise African football

Morocco change the mood for African football with exploits in Qatar

Morocco’s exciting run to a first-ever World Cup semi-final will inject a new energy in African football and hold out hope for the continent’s teams when they return in larger numbers in four years’ time.

African football had been in a crisis of confidence after the last World Cup in Russia, when none of the five teams made it out of the group phase, but that has now all changed with the performance of Walid Regragui’s team in Qatar.

Beating Belgium, Canada, Portugal and Spain saw Morocco become the first African and Arab country in the last four of the tournament and a reference point now for others to try and emulate.

It was an impressive achievement, particularly as they carried injuries, had several half-fit players in their squad and looked fatigued in most matches, yet were able to display a resolute determination and sense of purpose.

A lot of this came because of the fevered support they enjoyed. In each of their matches, they had large contingent of fans, who raised the decibel level considerably and created an extra energy for the team.

But young coach Regragui, appointed only three months earlier, was also able to create a team spirit despite having the most heterogenous squad at the tournament.

Morocco draw their players mainly from the many communities dotted around Europe, with many third generation players knowing little Arabic, Berber or French, and therefore finding it difficult to communicate with their team mates.

“We are much more of a family, more of a club side than a national team,” said Regragui.

“And I think that’s what’s given us this great strength.”

Morocco showed several aspects to their game in Qatar, with tenacious defence seeing them through against Spain in the last-16 but against France in Wednesday’s semi-final playing with attacking purpose when many expected they would sit back and absorb the pressure.

“I think we’ve given a good image of Morocco and a good image of African football and that was also important for us, because we were representing our country and our continent.”

They can now look ahead to the Africa Cup of Nations in 13 months’ time when the finals are hosted in the Ivory Coast in January 2024.

It is a trophy Morocco have won only once, in 1976, despite often being among the favourites.

Morocco will also expect to be back at the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026 when Africa has nine places, and a possible further 10th via a playoff.

But before that, they will take on Croatia in Saturday’s third place playoff match in Doha.


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