It was evening in Doha, where the hearts of 44,198 fans stopped.
And for the right reasons.
Youssef En-Nesyri climbed above a flailing Ruben Dias and past a helpless Diogo Costa to tap in a historic Morocco goal. Morocco knocked out Portugal at the World Cup, jeopardizing Cristiano Ronaldo’s chances of winning a World Cup. In doing so, the Atlas lions became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.
En-Nesyri found his hold, or header, in the 44th minute. He seemed to hook up with a cross from Yahia Attiyat-Allah. For some reason young Porto stopper Costa stepped off his line to claim it. En-Nesyri hovered over Ruben Dias and softly nodded his effort into an undisputed goal.
His attack marked a genesis in African football. En-Nesyri helped Morocco become the first ever African country to reach the semi-finals, something only a handful of World Cup teams have even dreamed of.
Still, despite repeated international victories, attitudes to Morocco’s chances are pessimistic. What more does it take for Morocco, and Africa in general, to gain respect now that their semi-final bid is intact?
Waiting 88 years
Africa’s recent World Cup success begins, ironically, with Morocco. In 1986, the North Africans broke records and shrank their minds as they emerged from a “Group of Death” stronger than ever. Yet African football begins with controversy, embarrassment and sometimes triumph.
The relationship between FIFA and African football teams has traditionally been tense. Their misery dates deep into the 20th century. An Egyptian side competing in a dysfunctional 1934 World Cup knockout round nearly defeated Hungary, only to lose 4–2 amid a refereeing match. disaster class.
Africa missed qualifying for 24 years due to a host of confusing and unfortunate events. Multiple World Cup withdrawals, World War II and unfair qualification procedures kept Africans out of the World Cup until 1970. In the end, FIFA awarded Africa a qualifying spot.
More success and tragedy followed at the 1982 World Cup. Algeria won two games, but still failed to qualify. The Shame on Gijon, where West Germany and Austria both played to a draw to ensure both had a place in the next round, Algeria were eliminated thanks to goal difference. It prompted a rule change from FIFA, but not in time to pack Algeria.
Cameroon, who qualified together with Algeria, drew all three games. However, it missed out on a spot for the next round due to goal difference.
Things got better in 1986 with Morocco’s fiery World Cup victory. After deadlocking both Poland and England, they chose a 3–1 victory over Portugal to progress to the round of 16. Although Morocco narrowly lost 1-0 in the death of eventual finalists West Germany, more success would soon follow for Africa at the World Cup. Cup.
Africa becomes iconic
Roger Milla. Not only is the Cameroonian icon arguably the father of Cameroonian football; but he was the catalyst for Cameroon’s historic 1990 run at the World Cup. When the striker wasn’t parading around the corner flag, he scored a lot of goals; four to be exact.
It was Cameroon that paved the way for teams like Morocco. With a surprise 1-0 win over Maradona’s Argentina and a 2-1 win against Gheorghe Hagi’s Romania, they were poised to become the second African side ever to reach the knockout rounds – an achievement in itself.
Cameroon aimed higher. Led by Roger Milla’s brace, they beat Colombia 2-1 to meet England in the quarter-finals. They were also minutes away from the semi-finals, but a late penalty sent the game into extra time, where Cameroon eventually lost.
With greater success and iconic performances came greater recognition from FIFA and broadcasters around the world. Think of the side of Aliou Cisse who danced his way to the quarter-finals in 2002. Or remember Asamoah Gyan carried Ghana to the round of 16 in 2006 and the quarter-finals four years later. Despite their modest success, African teams have always made deep, serious runs in the World Cup.
Therefore, Morocco not only beats Belgium in the group stage, but also passes Spain and Portugal underway to Africa’s first-ever semi-final appearance marks a new era of African football; one where teams don’t run into a brick wall after a little bit of success. With the new triumph of Morocco, it will soon be repeated all over Africa.
Can Morocco bring more World Cup glory to Africa?
One thing that sets Morocco apart from other African countries is the actual investment of funds. Teams like Ghana and Cameroon are plagued by internal corruption in the allocation of money.
However, Morocco has been able to spend its money looking to the future. After relative mediocrity in the 1990s and 2000s, Morocco spent a large chunk of it money for the construction of the Mohamed VI Football Academy and the Mohamed VI Football Complex. Nayef Aguerd, a key figure in the Moroccan defense, and Youssef En-Nesyri, the striker who scored the winning goal against Portugal, both came from the two academies.
Although it seemed silly at the time spend millions of dollars on a team past its glory days, Morocco proved all its doubters wrong.
Some countries are following Morocco’s blueprint for success. With the help of FIFA Forward, Tunisia renovated its training facility by adding a medical complex and relaxation area with spas and jacuzzis. The same program helped build new football pitches for Senegalese and Egyptian youth teams, as well as new training grounds in Niger and Benin.
Africa should be thankful that they now have at least some of the infrastructure they need to catch up with Europe and South America. But it must take a page out of Morocco’s book. Invest in youth facilities and training grounds to maximize success.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Newspix
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