Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Morocco off the Fifa map

Morocco could hardly pick worse circumstances for heading into their opening World Cup game. Wednesday brought with it the Fifa vote that confirmed a crushing fifth failed attempt to host the greatest show on Earth.

It also happens to be a game they desperately cannot stumble in. This evening’s game against Iran represents their only chance to gain a foothold in an impossible-looking Group B. Beyond the Persians lie Spain and a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Unless the North Africans wake up with three points in the morning it’s difficult to see them in the knockout stages.

Neither Fernando Hierro’s La Roja nor their Iberian rivals are favourites to lift the trophy but they should have enough to sail safely to the last 16.

On a mission to buck those expectations is Hervé Renard. The French coach is riding the Lions of the Atlas through a hot swell of late, having gone unbeaten in the last 18 games. He also stamped down a precedent for extracting the most his teams have to offer. In 2012, he took an unfancied Zambia to the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and returned with a maiden title. He would do the same with Côte d’Ivoire in 2015, a golden team that until then had constantly slipped on the big stage.

Renard takes a solid set of players to Russia — most of whom earn their pay cheques in Europe. The most prominent name among them is regular Juventus centre-back Medhi Benatia, who comes into the games having just lifted the Series A title. Teenage right-back Achraf Hakimi is also in that conversation after a breakout season at Real Madrid.

This crop will have to make their own history as there is little of note in terms of footballing achievements to build on. The North Africans take part in their first finals since 1998. Their prior appearances have been wretched, bar Mexico 1986.

READ MORE: Morocco king rejects independence for Western Sahara

That year, after a stalemate with Poland, England tried to snuff out their hopes. Ray Wilkins, who died in April, would get sent off early and his teammates subsequently struggled to break down a stubborn defence. Morocco rode the momentum and stunningly upset Portugal 3-1 to become the first African side to progress to the knockout stages. They would hold their own against Franz Beckenbauer’s West Germany in the last 16 as well, only falling out in large part owing to concentration lapses.

The parallels this year are obvious: a group of death, a more fancied Portugal standing in their way.

Losing out on World Cup hosting rights yet again will have clobbered their morale. What’s more, there has been increased focus on their oppression of Western Sahara. Many countries, such as South Africa, refused to give their hosting vote to the North Africans on that basis. Sworn enemies Danny Jordaan and Irvin Khoza even managed a grin as they came together to vote for the United States, Canada and Mexico.

With an early exit written in the stars, this could be a bad few weeks for the Morocco. Unless they can repeat the heroics of 1986, Russia 2018 will likely go down as a period they will strive to forget.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

Denel money woes clip air force’s wings

A senior officer says the shortage of spares and and ability to service aircraft and vehicles has a negative effect on the SANDF’s operational ability

State fails at-risk children as R55m orphanage stands empty

Boikagong Centre in Mahikeng has been closed for almost two years because it did not meet safety requirements. The discarded children say they want a safe place to learn, but instead endure rape and other violence

Wildlife farming vs Creecy’s panel

The departments of environment and agriculture legislation are at odds over modifying the genes of wild animals

Drugs and alcohol abuse rage in crime stats

Substance abuse has emerged as a reason for the spike in crimes during the first quarter of 2021.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×