المملكة المغربية / Morocco
- Capital: Rabat
- Official Languages: Arabic, Berber
- Additional Spoken Languages: French
- Nicknames: The Atlas Lions
- Association: Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) / الجامعة الملكية المغربية لكرة القدم
- FIFA Code: MAR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (1986)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Africa Cup of Nations (Men): WINNERS (1976)
- Best Africa Cup of Nations (Women): Group Stages (1998, 2000)
- Best African Nations Championship (Men): WINNERS (2018, 2020)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 10th (February 1997, April 1998, March 1998)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 52nd (July 2003)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 95th (September 2010)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 92nd (December 2009)
- Most Capped Player: Noureddine Naybet – 115 Caps
- Top Scorer: Ahmed Faras – 36 Goals
Morocco, officially The Kingdom of Morocco, is the westernmost country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Morocco overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the West, and has land borders with Algeria to the east, and the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south.
Before Morocco become an independent nation, they played their first game as a national team on 22nd December 1928 against the French ‘B’ team, narrowly losing by 2 goals to 1. This Moroccan team was comprised of the best players in the LMFA or Moroccan Football League (settlers or natives) and subsequently played against the likes of Football League of Algeria and the Tunisian Football League to name but a few. By 1955 the Royal Moroccan Football Federation had been formed which occurred at the end of the French Protectorate of Morocco which had been in place since 1912. Morocco as a nation gained it’s independence in 1956 and in 1957 they played their first international football match as an independent country. This game came at the 1957 Pan Arab Games held in Lebanon where their opponents were Iraq and the game ended in a 3-3 draw. It was later in this tournament that Morocco achieved their first win as an independent country – a 5-1 triumph over Libya.
In 1960 Morocco entered their first ever FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign for the tournament being held in Chile in 1962. The Atlas Lions made their way through CAF qualifying and into a last qualifying play-off game against Spain. Sadly this proved to be one step too far for the team as they were eliminated at the final hurdle of qualifying by an aggregate score line of 2-4. In 1963 Morocco again came close to qualifying for a major tournament for the first time – this time the African Cup of Nations. Again they were eliminated at the final hurdle, in the decisive qualifying play-off game they were defeated 5-6 on aggregate by Tunisia.
Although Morocco had gone agonisingly close to qualifying for major tournaments in the early 1960’s their wait ended when they qualified for the 1970 World Cup held in Mexico. On 3rd June 1970, the Atlas Lions lined up against West Germany for their inaugural World Cup Finals match. Morocco surprisingly opened the scoring with a goal in the 21st minute of the game scored by Houmane Jarir. Alas, they could not hold on to secure a famous victory as they were narrowly beaten 2-1. Their second game of the tournament was to be against Peru, a game which the South American team won by 3 goals to 0. In their final group game and although already eliminated from the tournament, Morocco drew 1-1 with Bulgaria and in doing so secured the first point obtained by an African national team at the World Cup.
In 1976 Morocco made history by securing their first ever African Cup of Nations title. The final round of that years competition saw them topping the final round of a four team group and thus winning their first continental title.
Morocco qualified for their second World Cup, this time in 1986 and ironically again in Mexico. This was to be a fantastic tournament for the team as they topped their group which included the likes of England, Poland and Portugal. In the first knockout round they came up against West Germany and were narrowly beaten 1-0 courtesy of a goal scored just a minute before the end of the game by the great Lothar Matthäus. Although no doubt disappointing, Morocco had still become the first national team from Africa to have made it through the group stages of a World Cup Finals tournament. Since 1986 Morocco have managed to qualify for a further three World Cups in 1994 and 1998 respectively, and most recently in 2018, although they did not make it through the group stages of any of those tournaments.
Morocco will soon be embarking another World Cup Qualifying campaign (for the finals in 2022 in Qatar) and have been drawn in a group alongside Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan. Led by their Bosnian coach, the vastly experienced Vahid Halilhodžić and with players like Romain Saïss (Wolverhampton Wanderers) Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina) and Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) in their squad – The Atlas Lions will no doubt be hopeful of qualifying for another World Cup. If they manage to do so then who knows what could happen from there on in.
To fin out more about one of the stronger footballing nations on the continent of Africa we spoke too Benjamin, a keen Moroccan football supporter who runs the excellent Twitter account Maghrib Foot, which provides you with all you need to know about the game in Morocco. The link to Benjamin’s excellent Twitter account is below:
- Twitter: @MaghribFoot
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Coach/Manager – Has to be the “converted Moroccan”, José Mehdi Faria. Originally from Brazil, he qualified us to the 1986 World Cup in what became our biggest achievement to date. Simultaneously coached FAR Rabat where he won the African Cup of Champions in 1985. Had offers from big clubs in Europe during this time, but decided to stay in Morocco, converted to Islam and lived in Rabat up until his passing. A legend!
Player – Difficult question, as we don’t necessarily have one who stands out as our best of all time. You could throw in names like all-time topscorer Ahmed Faras, the star-man from the 1986 World Cup squad, Mohamed Timoumi, or his teammate Abdelmajid Dolmy. Some would probably even say Mustapha Hadji, who is the last Moroccan to win African Footballer of the Year after his performances in the 1998 World Cup. Personally I’d probably say Noureddine Naybet. Most capped player in Morocco’s history and still the only one to reach 100 matches. Played in two World Cups and almost captained us to the 2004 AFCON title, losing in the final. Can also look back at an honorable club career, winning league titles in Morocco and Spain and achieving legendary status at Wydad Casablanca and Deportivo La Coruña. Today he is part of the Moroccan football federation as a member of the steering committee and coordinator of our various national teams.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Other than results on the pitch, Moroccan fans have always been fond of entertainers and players who will lift you off your seat. We’ve had plenty of this over the years, with the likes of Jaouad Zairi in early 2000’s, and Adel Taarabt after that. I’d also bring up Mbark Boussoufa in recent years, who never got the honors he deserved but was always highly valued by fans for his contributions in midfield.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Morocco national side currently?
Hard to get past Hakim Ziyech at Chelsea, who despite his tough start to life in England, was exceptional at Ajax, and has an incredible goalscoring record for Morocco [17 goals in 39 appearances at the time of writing]. Right now though, I’d say Achraf Hakimi is our best player, with the season he’s having at Inter Milan, having the third most goal contributions for the club as a wing-back.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
I’d say we’re in some sort of transitional phase right now. Vahid Halilhodžić was appointed after the 2019 AFCON which ended up in embarrassment despite us being one of the early favorites. He has been experimenting with loads of different players since then. We’ve just qualified for the 2021 AFCON and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers are soon approaching. He will have to decide on his preferred squad soon and only then are we able to determine where this team stands.
Q. Are there any Moroccan players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The tricky thing in Morocco is the fact that we have two different talent pools to choose from. One is the local one, and the other is the diaspora in Europe, where you never know for sure who will end up representing Morocco in the end. As for the local players I’d bring up Oussama Targhaline who is a versatile midfielder, product of the national Mohammed VI Academy. Recently signed with Marseille, at the age of 18 and is already training regularly with the first-team. From the diaspora you could name a ton of different players, but I prefer one who is already committed to Morocco, in Omar El Hilali, a solid right-back. 17 years old and just made his senior debut for Espanyol in Spain. Possibly another Spanish-Moroccan full-back to accompany Hakimi.
Q. Looking at Morocco’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Has to be the 1986 World Cup, more specifically the match against Portugal. 0-0 draws against Poland and England set up with a chance to advance if we beat Portugal in the last match of the group-stage. We won 3-1 after a fantastic performance and became the first African team to make the World Cup knockout-stages.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
The elimination to Benin in the last AFCON was tough to take, especially when we had such a comfortable group-stage and knew we were favorites to win the whole tournament. Ended up missing a 120th minute penalty and lost in the shoot-out. The most heart-breaking loss however, was probably against Tunisia in the last match of 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Morocco on 19 points, Tunisia on 20, we had to win away from home to qualify. Lead 2-1 but conceded an own-goal towards the end and lost out by a single point.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Morroccan national team?
The best has to be all the discussions, the build-up, the feeling when you hear the national anthem before an important match and obviously the sheer joy of seeing your country defend our pride. The worst must be the frustration that comes with all the expectations. It’s painful when it doesn’t go your away, especially when our neighbors do well, as in the last Africa Cup of Nations.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Yes, one of them is ‘Mabrouk 3lina‘, which basically means “Congratulations To Us” – this was sang before every World Cup match in 2018.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I love the 1998 World Cup shirts with Puma. Classic green and red, I still have one at home.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Moroccan national team?
We haven’t won an Africa Cup of Nations since 1976, so I’m still hoping to be able to witness a trophy during my lifetime. We aren’t too far away, but need a bit of luck and a cohesive team. One day we’ll get there.
A massive شكرًا لك to Benjamin from Maghrib Foot for answering our questions on the Atlas Lions. Remember you can find his excellent account in the link at the top of the blogpage.
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