Whether Moroccans think they are Arabs rather than Africans is quite beside the point when it comes to the World Cup. When we talk football, Morocco is completely African, whether they like it or not.
That is why all Black Africans are happy and are supporting them to reach the finals. We are supporting African football, not Arab or African nationalism. In fact, not even all Moroccans are Arabs. Some 40% of the population are Berbers who do not see themselves as Arabs. But when it comes to football, they, and us, are all Africans.
Morocco is playing the African game. They qualified from a very tough African zone that saw the likes of Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa falling by the way. Each of these nations is better than some of the teams that came to Qatar.
It is very important that CAF teams beat UEFA opposition at the World Cup. Morocco has done that again and again - Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and ... come on, France! UEFA has too many places in the WC and most of it comes at the expense of Africa. It is time to rejig the balance in favour of Africa.
The direct implication of Morocco's semi-final place is that CAF should have at least four more places in the 2026 WC that will have 48 teams and be played across three countries. This means African countries will find it easier to qualify for the games. If CAF has 9 or 10 places, Ghana’s qualification is highly likely. We may not have to play so many qualifiers against tough opponents to get there.
African football has come a long way from the 9-0 humiliation of Zaire by the then Yugoslavia in the 1974 Games in West Germany. The Africans were condescendingly praised by the world’s sporting press for playing so well that they lost to Scotland by “only” two goals in one of their group games. We see a similar tendency today with the Moroccan victory over Portugal being described as a shock! What shock?
In the 1978 games in Argentina, Tunisia (which the Black Stars had beaten in the semi-finals on their way to winning the African Cup in Accra earlier that year) became the first African team to win a WC game when they beat Mexico 3-1 in Rosario – where Lionel Messi would be born years later. The loss was so humiliating to the Mexicans that it was reported a Mexican committed suicide as a result. Spain 1982 saw Cameroon drawing all their games and Algeria being denied a place in the second round by the shameful collusion of European teams against them.
In Italia 1990, Cameroon did Africa proud by becoming the first CAF nation to get to the quarter-finals. It was only two doubtful (?) penalties given to England that denied them a place in the semi-finals. But Cameroon’s performance helped to increase Africa’s place from two to three. In 2002, Senegal repeated the quarter-final place in Japan and lost to Turkey in a game in which the Turks were not really better. Fast forward to South Africa 2010 and it was only Suarez’s hands that prevented Ghana from a place in the semis. It was the nearest miss ever.
But, now, Morocco actually made it – crossed that barrier and become the first CAF nation into the semis. That is what we are celebrating in all of Africa. And they did it with a home-grown coach.
Oh, of course, the Arab world has a right to rejoice too but more for geo-political and “tribal” reasons than for footballing reasons. It is in Africa that we are celebrating mainly for footballing reasons.
African football has come of age!!! A Moroccan final place will be one big leap forward for the African game. Bring on France …
Go, Morocco, Go!!! All of Africa and the Arab world are solidly behind you.
Kofi Amenyo ([email protected])