Morocco is a step away from retaining the African Nations Championships (CHAN) after humiliating hosts Cameroon 4-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final to book their ticket into the title decider due on Sunday, February 7, at Stade de la Réunification, in Douala.
Striker Soufiane Rahimi scored a brace for the holders to extend his tally to five goals and lead the scoring chart, while Soufiane Bouftini and Mohammed Ali Bemammer were also on the target with a goal each.
Morocco reached the final after finishing top of Group C ahead of Rwanda, Togo, and Uganda. They came into the tournament among the main challengers but their start was not quite impressive after struggling to beat Togo 1-0 before playing out a barren draw with Rwanda.
At the time, a defeat to Uganda would have seen the Moroccans bow out of the competition from the group stage as each side still had a chance to advance to the quarter-finals until the final round of matches in the group campaign
However, they rediscovered their form to thrash Uganda Cranes 5-2 to pick up seven out of nine possible points in Group C.
In the last eight round, they sent Zambia packing in a 3-1 win.
Morocco look now red-hot favorites to retain the title when they face Mali, who eliminated Guinea on penalties in semi-finals after a goalless draw.
The Atlas Lions’ strong showing at rescheduled CHAN 2020 finals did not come as a surprise considering that the country has been able to build a strong domestic league, dominated by homegrown players.
As a matter of fact, four Moroccan teams, namely Casablanca giants Wydad and Raja, HUS Agadir and RS Berkane have been the teams to beat in African club competitions – the Caf Champions League and the Confederation Cup – over the last few years. They all reached the semi-finals of the two tournaments last year.
RS Berkane went on to win the Confederation Cup title, while Wydad won the 2018/19 CAF Champions League.
The duo sides, as a result, find themselves alongside Raja Casablanca in the top ten of latest Caf Club rankings.
Morocco, who sit 35th on the December FIFA Rankings, is known for the quality of players it produces and is reputed to be a fertile ground for talent in and out of the country.
The country builds its football from the grassroots level as young talents are detected and developed at a number of football academies established in the Maghreb nation.
The most popular football academy is Mohammed VI Football Academy, located in Salé. It was inaugurated by King Mohammed VI in 2009 to reshape the national sport in the country.
The vision the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (RMFF) has for its football development also attracted the attention of Spanish Club Valencia, which decided to set up its first football academy in Africa, in the city of Marrakech.
The academy aims to scout young talents, aged between 5-18 years, from the Marrakech-Safi region. It aims at providing professional football training according to modern sports systems and programmes.
Concerted focus on grassroots football is beginning to pay handsome dividends for Morocco after the country’s Under-20 national team secured qualification for this year’s Africa U-20 Cup of Nations scheduled to take place in Mauritania after a 15-year absence.
The Under 20s qualification comes after the Under 17s also secured their ticket to the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations, which they will host next month.
Women were also not left behind as the Moroccan football governing body last August unveiled their 2021-2024 development plan, charting a future path for the growth of women’s football in the country.
The Moroccan government also invested billions of U.S dollars in developing football infrastructures, including Mohammed VI Complex in Rabat as they bid to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup, which was awarded to the joint bid by the U.S, Canada and Mexico.
Lessons for Rwanda
If Morocco is dominating African football on both club and country level, African FAs need to take a leaf from the country, start building their leagues, and stop waiting for miracle results from their senior national teams in international competitions.
Particularly, there is a lot Rwanda can learn from Morocco through the two countries’ existing bilateral ties.
In 2017, Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) signed a new agreement with the Federation Royal Marocaine de Football (FRMF) aimed at improving football infrastructure in the country.
Although there is no denying that a lot needs to be done, Rwanda is performing relatively well in establishing football infrastructures but its football development remains critical given that the country does not have a single professional football academy.
Unfortunately, there is also no clear plan to detect, nurture and develop football talents from the grassroots, which almost always result in the national teams’ poor performance, not just in football but also in other disciplines.
With the PSG Football Academy in pipeline and the soon-to-be-launched sports policy in schools, a lot could change in Rwanda football – but only if plans to implement development projects are taken seriously.