Imagine something other than a victory? Unthinkable. After its draw against the Croatian world vice-champions (0-0) and especially its victory against Belgium semi-finalist of 2018 (2-0), Morocco obviously sees itself making short work of the “small” Canada, this Thursday 1er December, to win without firing a shot a qualification in the round of 16. And do even better than the elders who had jumped on the second round of the 1986 World Cup, but with only one success (against Portugal, 3-1) and two draws (0-0, against Poland then England).
Appetite comes with eating. “We want to exist like the great nations, to know how to pass this round”, summarizes Walid Regragui, the Moroccan coach. The native of Corbeil-Essonnes does not want to ignite, but he trusts his group enough to display “high goals”. And why not? “We know where we are goinghe let go after the bad trick inflicted on the Belgians. We have a very coherent team block, it’s difficult to move us, and everyone is working. Afterwards, with our quality players, we know that at any time we can do something big. »
A long-term policy
The journey of the Atlas Lions so far is no small reward, already, for a coach called to the rescue less than three months from the World Cup. By taking over from the Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, sacked for his bad relations with certain players, Walid Regragui was not starting from scratch. It was still necessary to pick up the pieces with the undesirables of yesterday, like the star winger of Chelsea Hakim Ziyech, and to resolder a group in emergency. A follower of diplomacy rather than the balance of power, the champion of Morocco and the African Champions League in 2022 (with the club Wydad Casablanca) obviously knew how to find the words.
A qualification would in any case validate for Morocco a long-term policy launched in 2014 by the new president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), Fouzi Lekjaâ. With the support of King Mohammed VI, tens of millions of euros have been invested in the construction of stadiums in major cities, but also hundreds of synthetic pitches in working-class neighborhoods. The organization of championships for the young categories and the reform of those of the elite have made it possible to structure competitions and clubs.
“Today, Morocco has become a locomotive for the development of football on the continentassures Yassine El Yattioui, doctoral student in political science at the University of Salamanca and specialist in Moroccan football. Its infrastructures also make it possible to accommodate numerous teams, particularly from sub-Saharan countries, for preparation courses. And Morocco is obviously a candidate for the organization of the 2025 African Cup of Nations, which has been withdrawn from Guinea. »
To be the first country in Africa
CAN 2025 to forget the failure (the fifth!) of Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup? Morocco did not relax its efforts after the awarding of the next World Cup to the Canada-United States-Mexico trio. To perpetuate its structures, the FRMF has just secured the services of Chris Van Puyvelde, who was national technical director of the Belgian Football Federation from 2015 to 2018.
Impressed in particular by the Mohammed-VI National Football Center inaugurated in 2019 (58 million euros of investment), the equivalent of the tricolor Clairefontaine in a more modern version, the Belgian technician set the bar very high on his arrival: “I know that Morocco wants to be the first country in Africa and I have seen now that it is possible. In Belgium, we dreamed of being first in the FIFA rankings with a country of 11 million inhabitants and we did it (from November 2018 to March 2022, editor’s note). Is there a reason not to make it here? »
The Atlas Lions only sharpen their teeth in Qatar. The objective is then to reach the last four of the CAN in January 2024. The means are there and will last. In October 2021, Fouzi Lekjaâ, already director of the budget at the Ministry of the Economy, entered the government as Minister Delegate for the Budget. A good place.
Women’s football also progresses
Morocco organized last July the fourteenth edition of the women’s CAN. The national team reached the final, narrowly failing against South Africa (1-2). But by finishing in the last four, the Lionesses above all qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a first for a North African team and for an Arab nation. The Moroccan thrust can also be seen at club level. On November 13, the Sports Association of the Royal Armed Forces (AS Far) offered the second edition of the African Women’s Champions League, largely dominating (4-0) the South Africans of Mamelodi Sundowns.