Africa is one of the continents with with passionate football fans, in other words they are called diehard. Since the World Cup competition started back in 1934, they had yet to produce a team past the quarter finals stage but the story was different in this year’s competion held in Qatar where one of the African representatives, Morocco, nearly went all through. They topped their group comprising of the golden generation of Belgium, 2018 runners-up Croatia and Canada and advancing up to the final four. This made Morocco to be the first African team to do so and set a record that will take time for other teams to achieve.
This performance made Morocco to be the African team with the best performance in this year’s World Cup. They finished fourth. An African team had never reached this stage, with only Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana reaching the quarter finals before.
But the question comes. What drove Morocco to perform very significantly in this year’s competition?
The Morocco squad comprised of 20 professional players from major European leagues. They easily triumphed in the qualifiers. Some of the players who play for major leagues include their right back Achraf Hakimi, Sofian Boufal, Amrabat, Hakim Ziyech, captain Roman Saiss who is always referred by his former Wolves coach as the “the Moroccan Maldini” and the shots stopper Bono. They provided some necessary team work that drove the team forward. They were also very organised in terms of play, defended as a group and attacked as a group.
Also important was the appointment of coach Walid Regragui who recalled outcasts like Hakim ziyech who had earlier retired from international football due to altercations with the former coach, brought in youngsters and natured a spirit in the team that wasn’t there before.
“We are much of a family, more of a club side than a national team. I think that’s what has given us this great strength,” said Regragui.
The other driving force that made Morocco to perform well in this World Cup competition is the support they got from Qatari fans and Muslims all over the world. The Arab world had united behind the giant killers Morocco and they offered tremendous support to Morocco.
“Morocco’s win brought back a feeling of a united Muslim and Arab world,” Adnan El khattate, Agadir-based doctor stated.
After the Atlas Lions thrashed Portugal to advance to the semi-finals, new York’s Moroccan-American community flocked to Times Square to celebrate. Although the Arab and Muslim countries support for Morocco brought a lot of controversies in the world’s football arena, it was still one of the most driving forces that pushed Morocco to perform even better in the world’s top competition.
Another driving force is their style of play. Walid Regragui’s side were using a 4-4-4-1 which reverted to a 5-4-1, building a strong defence unit that required opposition teams to have a strong mentality and skill to break through. They only conceded once in the group stages which was an own goal against Canada.
Morocco’s defensive structure frustrated European giants Spain Belgium, Croatia and Portugal. They also relied on counter attacks and had a big centre forward Youssef En-Nesyri who never failed to capitalise on the opportunities he got.
“We played Simeone-style and won,” said their goalkeeper after sending Spain out of the competition through penalty shootout.
It will be sad failing to mention Walid Regragui efforts to the side in the World Cup. He only took charge of the team three months before the start of the competition. His leadership, coolness, integrity, clarity and patience should be acknowledged as a driving force for Morocco’s good performance in the World Cup. After his appointment as the national head coach, he encouraged and convinced Hakim Ziyech to come back from his retirement and join the national team. Ziyech proved a point after his wonderful performance in the competition.
“He sticks up for his players and gives you the desire to battle for him,” said Nayef Aguerd who plays as a defender for Westham.
Lastly, the unity and quality players who played for the shirts made the team perform incredibly well. The players played their hearts out and were ready to die for the team
“This is a world cup and we are a family and a united team and they put in everything,” said the coach after defeating Spain.
Morocco had 12 members of their squad born in the country and 14 from outside the country.
From the foregoing, it can be said Morocco made history.