Morocco In For A Football Feast

Posted by Firdose Moonda

MoroccoGettyImagesMorocco have a long way to go before success is back on the agenda.

In December, Morocco will become the first African nation to host the Club World Cup and 13 months later, they will see the African Nations Cup (ANC) on their soil.

It may be small consolation for missing out on hosting the 2010 World Cup but the people in the host cities of Rabat, Tangier, Marrakech and Agadir won’t mind. At least one of those venues, Agadir, in south-west Morocco, has a new stadium built for the occasion. The Adrar Stadium will be inaugurated in two weeks’ time with a friendly between Morocco and South Africa.

The opponents for that match were originally intended to be Scotland. Sources in Morocco say the financial requirements of the Scottish FA were too great so they had to settle for someone else. It may end up being a happy accident. While Scotland are ranked 63rd, nine places above Morocco, South Africa are closer in 68th place.

Of course, numbers and standings don’t guarantee anything, but Moroccan supporters will hope the more evenly matched contest could give them a fighting chance at victory especially because triumphs of importance are so rare for the Atlas Lions. Even though they recently beat Tanzania, Gambia and Tunisia, they still failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

That extends the already 15-year long drought from the last time they appeared at the global event in 1998 and their record on the continent does not read any better. In four of the last five ANCs, Morocco have exited in the first round. The fifth was in 2010, the year they did not even qualify.

The glory days of 1986, when they made it to the round of 16 at the World Cup, and even 2004, when they finished in second place at the ANC, are considered well behind them. Reasons for their underperformance have been laid on everything from the societal construction of Morocco as a country, to the way the football federation is run.

An interesting commentary on Moroccoboard.com, written by an author who goes by the name J.R, charts Morocco’s best days in the hope of ending their worst. The columnist concludes the successes were achieved either when the team was comprised of people who were used to regiments and routine -- such as the largely army-based side of 1970 who played in the Mexico World Cup -- or when the majority of national players were home bred and based, such as the side of 1986.

With football being what he described as the national past-time, “skills were acquired organically”. But, like every society, that had to change eventually.

Globalisation, and by its implication more players basing themselves outside Morocco, had its first effects in 2004 when the writer notes a team of first-generation Moroccan-European players taking the field. They went to achieve what has been called “the last meaningful success,” and was the beginning of what this writer seems to consider the end.

After that year, Morocco’s economy changed to the point where football was no longer an activity of such importance; the country was forced to rely almost entirely on players in overseas leagues and this, according to J.R, does not work: “Clashes of cultures, misalignment of goals and resentment from the few local players were obvious. The spirit of a team was no longer there.”

That much was evident at the most recent ANC. Morocco drew all three matches they played in, scores that read like the indifference it was. Following their first-round elimination, fans demanded former manager Baddou Zaki, who was at the helm in 2004, become president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation. Ali Fassi-Fihri has copped much criticism, partly because people see him as nothing more than a suit, far removed from the game.

Fassi-Fihri is also the director of the national water and electricity body and clearly has more pressing matters on his mind. He is considered responsible for the appointment of Eric Gerets, although the Belgian was fired when Morocco lost to Mozambique in an ANC qualifier in September last year.

The owner of the Facebook page appealed to the ministry to “sack all the officials in charge of football and hold them accountable for the defeat, according to the new constitution which links responsibility with accountability”. Fassi-Fihri responded with the verbal equivalent of a shrug, by saying his continuation in the role depends on the will of the King, Mohammed VI.

The body was due to hold a general assembly on August 19 and it was widely speculated a new president would be appointed. Both FIFA and the Confederation of African Football still list Fassi-Fihri as the man in charge which, if the masses are to be believed, may mean that the impact at global showpieces may change very little for Moroccan football as a whole.

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