FT Post World Cup 2018: The Day Morocco Bullied Portugal
A Few Weeks Before This Day
At the end of the 90 minutes, I was kicking myself trying to conceive how Morocco lost that Group B clash against the European champions, Portugal. In fact, I am still questioning myself hoping to get answers on the Lions of the Atlas’ ordeal. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat throughout the match, cheering on, commentating and at times giving instructions through the television, as if they could actually hear me. That is just some hindsight into the level of passion I felt, which can be hardly described with words. At the end of the day, I was thoroughly entertained but walked away with a sinking feeling which has driven me to reflect in this piece.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Objectively, this is not just a “make Africa look good piece.” I am not a data junkie but let us look at the stats of the match for a second. Morocco had more of the ball with 55% possession, they also had five more shots than Portugal with a total of 15 shots with twice as many on target than their opposition. They had a superior passing accuracy of 76.4% compared to Portugal’s 71.7%, more passes in the attacking third, more key passes, more corners, more dribbles, more recoveries; essentially more of everything in attack. I am sure you are getting the picture now, Morocco actually bullied the 4th ranked team in the world. Hakeem Ziyech literally owned the midfield cutting inside from the left flank, Nordin Amrabat was unstoppable and the defense marshall, captain Mehdi Benatia adopted a second role - heading the ball goalwards at the wake of the countless opportunities, almost like a second striker.
This was really huge to me as far as breaking stereotypes is concerned. African teams have been overtime described as “physical” which actually implies that they lack tactical awareness, organization, and are void of the ability to entertain. For the first time in my life, on the biggest stage of them all, I witnessed a European team pushed to the brink and made to defend in numbers, in other words, “park the bus”. Let me be clear, I do not see it in the view of the underappreciated rising to the occasion to prove haters wrong - shouting “I told you so,” but rather, in the light of football is a testament that no particular group of individuals has the inalienable right to mastery and dominance. Everyone can master and dominate, not just in sport but in everything. Allow me to echo the timeless declaration that all men are created equal with the hope that the more we roar it out, the more we move to actualize it.
Every Team Needs A Ronaldo
I am always reminded by my peers that in the end “football is about scoring goals.” Well, I actually concede to that fact but I cannot be robbed of the celebration of broken stereotypes. This gets me to the next point in moving past the “feel good dimension” to that of winning. Arguably the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo actually won that particular match and many others for his country. The recent addition to the Juventus squad delivered a lightning header in the 4th minute from a corner kick, which sealed the points for the European champions. As we celebrate the progression of African football in the context of the Moroccans, I suggest we also aspire not to just do enough but be the best. My hope and prayer are that the small boys and girls in the forgotten and well-known parts of the continent may grind as much as Ronaldo with the belief that they will seize even the smallest of opportunities, become the best players in the world and win battles for their nations.
Morocco finished the 2018 FIFA world cup campaign in Russia, bottom of Group B with a single point after having lost the opening match to Iran courtesy of an injury-time own goal, another loss to Portugal and drew 2-2 with the 2010 World Champions, Spain. The Moroccan matches were some of the most breathtaking matches of my 2018 World Cup experience.
Continue roaring, Lions of the Atlas!