FT's 10 Best Moments of 2018: #3 Morocco 'bullied' opponents

At FirstTouch, we have a saying that goes like, “a year is never over until we close it.” In the spirit of that ideal, we took our time to look back at the ten most defining moments of 2018, as far as African football is concerned. Could you guess what they are? Here is number 3.

Mehdi Benatia of Morocco leads his team on the pitch prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium on June 20, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.  (June 19, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

Mehdi Benatia of Morocco leads his team on the pitch prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium on June 20, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.

(June 19, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup group game pitting Morocco and their neighbors Spain, underlined interesting changes which happen to be the order of the day for modern African football. On paper, it was what they call, “a dead rubber” match given that Morocco’s elimination was already confirmed after suffering two painful defeats in their opening group matches against Iran and Portugal. Defeats that came about by conceding late goals even though they had put up impressive performances.

It was not only Morocco, but Nigeria at times played some great football especially against Iceland and Argentina signalling the re-writing of a narrative that described African teams as just “physical” without a cool enough head to exhibit entertaining passage of play.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa

With Spain and many other European teams largely viewed to be more tactical and flowery in their style of play, they were not the only ones to enjoy great passage of play. Morocco bowed out of the FIFA World Cup with a well fought 2-2 draw against Spain exhibiting nothing that suggests Africans as being less flowery in their style of play. Nordin Amrabat and Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech were a constant menace for the likes of Pique and Sergio Ramos. It was the kind of performance they put up against Portugal who grabbed the lead through a Cristiano Ronaldo header early in the match. The Lions of the Atlas literally had Ronaldo and his teammates on the ropes for the rest of the match though they nervily held onto the 1-0 win.

Iran was no exception, with the Asians getting a fortunate 1-0 win through an own goal even though they had been dominated by Herve Renard’s men in the 90 minutes.  It was not only Morocco, but Nigeria at times played some great football especially against Iceland and Argentina signalling the re-writing of a narrative that described African teams as just “physical” without a cool enough head to exhibit entertaining passage of play. With the AFCON 2019 on the horizon, fans everywhere would be delighted with the development of the game on the continent and would surely be convinced that the best is yet to come.