Morocco’s most notable teams

MOROCCO made history in reaching the FIFA World Cup semi-finals, the first African nation to get this far in the competition. It wasn’t just a landmark for the north African country, it was a memorable occasion for the entire continent. CAF has been waiting for one of its teams to show the rest of the world that Africa should be taken seriously and Morocco demonstrated that they can now look Europe and South America in the eye.

Morocco’s run to the last four has been no fluke; they beat Belgium in the group phase and overcome Spain and Portugal, the two sides many felt would contend the semi-final in their half of the draw. They deserved it, playing with a discipline and determination that few have associated with African teams in the past. Nobody should underestimate Morocco in their semi-final with France.

1970 – A first World Cup

Allal Ben Kassou, Abdallah Lamrani, Moulay Khanousi, Kecem Slimani, Boujemaa Benkhrif, Mohammed Mahroufi, Driss Bamous, Mohammed El Filal, Said Ghandi, Maouhoub Ghazouani, Houmane Jaris, Ahmed Faras, Abdel Kader El Khiati, Jalil Fadili, Amed Alaoul.

Coach: Blagoje Vidinic (Yugoslavia)

Said Ghandi, a highly-rated midfielder/winger who played for Raja Casablanca. Won 31 caps for Morocco. Houmane Jarir, another Raja player, he scored Morocco’s first World Cup goal against West Germany. His career was curtailed due to a knee injury.

Morocco stunned West Germany in their first group game, Jarir scoring in the 21st minute from close range, shooting high into the net. The Germans didn’t equalise until the 56th minute from Uwe Seeler before Gerd Müller netted the winner 10 minutes from time. Morocco’s second game was a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Peru, who scored three goals in the last 23 minutes in León. Finally, Morocco earned a point with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria.

1976 – Africa Cup of Nations winners

Mohammed Hazzaz, Mehdi Belmejdoub, Chérif Fetoui, Brahim Glaoua, Larbi Chebbak, Ahmed Abouali, Baba, Abdallah Semmat, Abdallah Semmat, Abdallah Tazi, Abdel Ali Zahraoui, Ahmed Faras, Abdelmajid Dolmy.

Coach: Virgil Mârdârescu (Romania)

Mohammed Hazzaz, agile goalkeeper who won 65 caps for his country and played for MAS Fez. Named as the best keeper in the 1976 AfricaCup of Nations. Ahmed Faras, one of the greatest players in Moroccan football history and the player of the 1976 tournament. Enjoyed a 17-year career with Chabab Mohammédia. Won 94 caps for Morocco.

Morocco’s only Africa Cup of Nations victory was in 1976 when they finished top of the final round in Addis Ababa. They had come through the first stage group with victories against Zaire and Nigeria and a draw with Sudan. In the four-team final group, they beat Egypt and Nigeria and drew with Guinea in the decisive last game in front of 30,000.

2022 – Last four of the FIFA World Cup

Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saïss, Noussair Mazroumi, Sofyan Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahim, Selim Amallah, Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal, Yahia Atliyat Allah, Abderrazak Hamdalloh, Abdelhamid Sabiri, Jawad El Yamiq.

Coach: Walid Regragui

Yassine Bounou (Bono), goalkeeper who plays for Sevilla in Spain and won the prestigious Zamora trophy in 2021-22. Made a big impact in Morocco’s run to the semi-final of the World Cup, notably in the penalty shoot-out against Spain. Prior to the semi-final, he had won 50 caps for his country. Hakim Ziyech, Dutch-born winger who joined Chelsea in the summer of 2020 for € 40 million after impressing with Ajax. Has won 48 caps for Morroco. Achraf Hakimi, full back/wing back who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, whom he joined in 2021 for € 60 million from Inter Milan. Has won 59 caps for Morocco and is considered to be one of the best full backs in the world.

With Croatia and Belgium in their first phase group, Morocco were not expected to win through to the knockout stage of the World Cup. A 0-0 draw with Croatia didn’t suggest the Atlas Lions were bound for glory, but a 2-0 win against highly-fancied Belgium, goals from Saïss and substitute Aboukhial, provided one of the early shocks of the competition. After beating Canada, Morocco found themselves topping the group and preparing to face Spain in the last 16. The Moroccans played a very strategic game and their defence, one of the strongest in Qatar, gave Spain no quarter. The game went to penalties and goalkeeper Bono saved two as Morocco won 3-0. Bono was in fine form again in the last eight game against Portugal, who were beaten 1-0, thanks to a first half goal from En-Nesyri. Morocco set a new benchmark for African football and will be looking to create more headlines.

Morocco have bid to host the competition no less than five times and may also throw their hat in the ring for 2030. It must be getting harder to ignore the case for a North African World Cup.

When will it be time for Africa in a World Cup?

THERE ARE five African countries in this year’s World Cup, but nobody expects any of them to seriously challenge for the most sought-after trophy in football. Africa remains an also-ran on the global stage and, despite Pelé’s prediction that a World Cup winner will come from the continent by 2000, it simply hasn’t happened, and frankly, is unlikely to occur any time soon.

Progress has certainly been made, although it could be argued it might have plateaued. Africa produces lots of very talented players, but then so does the rest of the world. The athleticism and strength of African players adds something unique to almost every team, but there’s rarely been a well-rounded and consistent national team to go head-to-head with the finest sides from Europe and South America.

African national teams are no longer an unknown quantity – of the five squads representing CAF at this World Cup, only 15 players ply their trade in their domestic competitions. The first Africans to make an impact were Cameroon in 1990, largely because nobody knew too much about them. Today, African footballers can be found in all corners of Europe, so the global football audience is well acquainted with exports from Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, among others. Furthermore, in Europe’s top five leagues, there are almost 300 African players spread across 98 clubs. France, because of historic links and language, is the biggest importer of African talent, with 120 players in the 20 Ligue 1 squads. Interestingly, while Ajaccio, Angers and Auxerre have over 10 African players, the all-conquering Paris Saint-Germain have just one in their first team squad.

World Cup finals appearances

 First appearedAppearances
Ivory Coast20063
South Africa19983

When African nations started to gain more places in the World Cup finals, one criticism was the lack of technical professionals being developed within the countries themselves. The CAF members invariably hired what could be seen as a foreign legion of coaches from places like Belgium, the Netherlands and the former Yugoslav states. In 2022, the five African sides are all managed by citizens of their own country, a genuine landmark in the game’s evolution. This may yield some very positive results as one of the drawbacks of constantly hiring foreign managers was their lack of affinity with African culture and lifestyle.

Only nine times have African countries reached the last 16 of the World Cup, with three going on to play in the quarter-finals. In 2018, not a single team got out of the group stage and only three victories were recorded in 15 games. This did cause some concern in CAF circles and if there is a similar outcome this year, questions will surely be asked about the momentum behind Africa’s bid to compete with Europe and South America, not to mention Asia.

Needless to say, two African nations have never met in the finals, but that day will surely come. The first team to make the last eight was Cameroon in 1990, a robust side that might have even gone further if they had been more controlled. They were beaten by a rather fortunate England, who had to rely on two penalties to overcome The Indomitable Lions by 3-2. Senegal emulated Cameroon in 2002 and were desperately unlucky to lose to a “sudden death” goal against Turkey in extra time. In 2010, Ghana lost a penalty shoot-out to Uruguay in a controversial game that saw Luis Suárez handballed a goalbound effort that could have given the Africans victory. These narrow defeats suggested that, gradually, Africans were getting closer to becoming more competitive, but 2022 suggests they will still fall short.

Within Africa itself, the game is very competitive and the last seven Africa Cup of Nations has seen seven different winners, but qualification for the World Cup has often been inconsistent. This is partly due to the limited number of slots available to CAF – five – which means qualifying from a confederation with 54 members can be a slippery process. Africa also has to deal with the challenges of driving development in a continent that includes some of the poorest countries in the world. African football also has issues around corruption and infrastructure, both of which hamper momentum and create arguments around financial rewards for players.

Egypt, for example, have been the Cup of Nations most successful country, but they have participated in the World Cup only three times. Nigeria have been one of the regulars but didn’t make it in 2022, while Algeria, winners of the Cup of Nations in 2019, are also missing this time. Ghana, a big producer of talent, have been in four of the last five World Cups, but haven’t won the African competition since 1982.

Sadly, some of the best African players are not at this World Cup; Egypt didn’t qualify, so Mohamed Salah of Liverpool is absent, while Senegal’s star striker, Sadio Mané, now playing for Bayern Munich, is injured. These two players have been among the most coveted forwards in recent years, although both are now over 30. Since the 1990s, Africa has produced some outstanding individuals, including Michael Essien (Ghana), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) and Yaya Touré (Ivory Coast), all of whom had a major influence on their home nations. Clubs in Europe consider Africa still has a rich seam of talent and have either set-up academies or partnerships with local soccer schools. Scouts proliferate the region, some less than genuine in their approach.

In Qatar, results have been very mixed for Africa, but there have been some high spots, including Morocco’s memorable 2-0 win against highly-ranked Belgium and Ghana’s 3-2 victory over South Korea. Ghana also pushed Portugal all the way and Cameroon took part in an excellent 3-3 draw with Serbia. There are no thrashings, no humiliations, but it does seem as though Asia and Africa are now comparable in how they fare in the World Cup. Inevitably, there will be some players that will emerge from the competition and find themselves in demand – the FIFA World Cup is a huge shop window, after all.