Is Morocco’s Success a Sign of the Future of African Soccer?

After seeing an African team fight to reach the World Cup final, is it possible that Morocco's feat will be repeated?.

Morocco national team players

Photo: TW-EnMaroc

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: ¿Es el éxito de Marruecos una muestra del futuro del fútbol africano?

The Moroccan team is the big surprise of the World Cup in Qatar. The performance of the Arab country, getting to play the semifinal and dispute the passage to a final of the world cup with the reigning champion, has left a pleasant impression on soccer fans.

His path was not easy. On the contrary, it outperformed several countries that, on paper, seemed much more powerful. In the tournament, they eliminated Pedri's Spain; Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva's Portugal; Kevin De Bruyne's Belgium; and Alphonso Davie's Canada, and tied with 2018 runner-up Croatia with Luka Modrić. Definitely, a team that reached the semifinal on its own merit.

Read also: The Failure Of Concacaf In The World Cup In Qatar 2022

It was only when he had to face the mega favorite and reigning champion, France, to resign his title dream. However, the match showed that Morocco played with a high level and courage, which worried the French.

Now, Morocco's performance is not only historic for being the first time that this country has reached the sixth game, but it is the first time in history that an Arab or African team has done so. So could we be witnessing the rebirth of the African Football Confederation ?

The answer is not so simple, since Africa is a huge continent, with dozens of countries, and each one with its respective selection. Many know that the football played by a team from North Africa is very different in technique, form, and biotype from the players from the south. But, it is necessary to analyze different elements that can suggest if it will be common to see teams from Africa in final instances of the World Cups, and even see a champion, or if it was only an isolated case.

Migration Phenomenon

To understand the success of Morocco, it is important to see the importance of Moroccan migration in Europe. The selection of the Strait of Gibraltar was the team with the highest number of selected that were born outside the country. If it is true that they all had Moroccan ancestry, and therefore could easily play for their national team, it is still striking that 14 of the 26 called up were not born in national territory.

Not only that, its biggest stars were born in another country: Younes Bono (Sevilla goalkeeper, born in Canada), Achraf Hakimi (PSG winger, born in Spain), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina defender, native of the Netherlands) and Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea striker, also born in the Netherlands).

So, despite the fact that all these players represent Moroccan football, very few are those who were trained and promoted in Morocco. Several of these were trained in the European infrastructure, and today they benefit from having the same Moroccan passport to put together a highly competitive team. Now, if this is the long-term strategy, it will be very difficult for other teams to replicate.

This is the opposite case of the French team, harshly criticized for having many players of immigrant descent or born outside the country, and, therefore, for "stealing talent from other countries." Despite having 3 players not born in Europe, all (or at least the majority) were trained by the French infrastructure, which shows that every day more and more figures come out for the French team.

But the case of Morocco is not unique in Africa. The African countries that participated in the World Cup had the largest number of foreigners than other continents. Tunisia and Senegal registered 12 “foreigners”, while Cameroon played with 9 and Ghana with 8. Numerous of these were born in Europe, which demonstrates the strategy that various African countries are implementing: repatriating children or grandchildren from their country, to strengthen their teams.

African Stars

But it is also true that today Africa has world soccer stars. Figures like Sadio Mané, Mohammed Salah, Naby Keita (Guinea) or Wilfred Ndidi (among others) dazzle in Europe. Talent has never been lacking and figures like Samuel Eto'o, Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré, Roger Mila, George Weah, among many others, are the sample.

However, it is true that today several others representing countries in Africa were not born on the continent. Added to the previously mentioned Moroccans are Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Pierre Aubameyang (Gabon), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal), Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon) and Joel Matip (Cameroon). They are examples that the African teams today need many nationalized.

Geographical Proximity

Nor can it be ignored that Qatar 2022 is the first World Cup played in the Arab world. This has allowed Morocco to play practically at home, with a supportive public and with similar geographical, cultural and political conditions. Although there are no statistics that can corroborate this point, examples from today and from the past can support this thesis. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was particularly successful for the Latin American teams. Or the 2018 World Cup in Russia for European teams. The latest FIFA events have had the particularity of benefiting the area.

Additionally, it was not until 2014 that a European team won in American territory. Never before has a team from Europe won the title in this hemisphere, neither in Mexico nor in the United States nor in Uruguay nor in Chile nor in Argentina nor in Brazil (until the last event).

Infrastructure and Projects

On the other hand, for several years, the world of football has been debating the relevance of infrastructure when it comes to explaining sporting success. Training camps, stadiums with pitches in optimal condition, food, and trips to compete are the pillars left behind by European hegemony in football.

Africa has always had talent, the FIFA youth tournaments have shown it. The African teams always compete equally with the Europeans or the South Americans, but then they seem to be unable to replicate it in the Senior World Cup. This demonstrates the lack of infrastructure, stadiums, fields, nutritionists, psychologists, coaches, and investment that is lacking in Africa (and in other regions of the world).

This makes it clear that despite the fact that today Morocco will play third place in the World Cup against Croatia, and that today African football is on the world scene, this may only be a fleeting success. In order to see more African teams contesting world titles, it is not enough to nationalize the children or grandchildren of emigrants, but to better train the bases and shape the great talent that is born on the continent.

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