After a barren 20 years, Morocco’s “Lions of the Atlas” are on their way to Russia to compete in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
They achieved this by finishing unbeaten in qualification, dominating a group which contained 2015 African champions, Ivory Coast, as well as Mali and Gabon.
The North Africans are drawn in Group B, where they will resume rivalries with European champions Portugal, against whom they achieved their most famous result in the competition, back in 1986, after qualifying for only the second time in their history.
Other teams in the group include 2010 world champions Spain, as well as Asian powerhouse, Iran who they meet in their tournament opener in Saint Petersburg on 15 June.
Morroco’s history at the World CupMexico 1970
The Lions of the Atlas’ first attempt at qualifying for the showpiece was for the 1962 edition held in Chile, but it would only take them until their third time of trying to finally strike success, when they booked a place to Mexico as Africa’s sole representative.
The were placed in Group Four, alongside eventual semifinalist, West Germany, Peru and Bulgaria.
They kicked off their campaign against a West Germany side which featured a host of big names such as Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, and Helmut Haller.
The gulf between the debutants and the 1954 champions was initially not evident, as Mohammed Jarir stunned the more fancied opponents with an early strike, just after the 20th minute sending his side to the break leading 1-0.
Eleven minutes into the second half, the Germans’ legendary skipper, Uwe Seeler restored parity, as he provided the equaliser, before Müller, gave them the lead with just 10 minutes left to play, destroying any chances of a dream debut, as the Lions suffered a 2-1 defeat.
Next up was Peru and, after a goalless first half, Morocco would endure somewhat of a nightmare after the hour mark, as three quick goals from the Peruvians – all within 10 minutes meant a second defeat for the African outfit.
With Peru and West Germany occupying the top two spots in the group at six points apiece, Morocco vs Bulgaria was more for pride than anything else.
Neither side could come out victorious on the day, as both sides were forced to share the spoils after Maouhoub Ghazouani’s strike in the second half cancelled out Dobromir Zhechev first half goal to finish the game at 1-1, ending a disappointing debut for the Lions.
Three consecutive unsuccessful qualifying campaigns followed, before the World Cup ws back in Mexico again in 1986, and Morocco managed to do well enough to book a place in the tournament once again.
Coached by Brazilian, Jose Faria, they finished fourth in the African Cup of Nations played prior to the global showpiece, they were one of the continents better side but a bigger stage posed a bigger challenge.
They were drawn with European powerhouses in England, Poland, as well as Portugal in Group F.
Their campaign kicked off against Poland, and would end in disappointment for both sides, as neither could find the breakthrough, eventually ending goalless.
Morocco next took on an England side captained by Bryan Robson, boasting the likes of Gary Lineker, Ray Wilkins and Peter Shilton.
The result was however similar to their previous outing, as both sides had to settle for a stalemate with no goals forthcoming.
Going into their final group fixture in second place on the standings with just two points, their next task was against Portugal, who were making their first appearance in the competition in 20 years, having last appeared in 1966, when it was hosted and won by England, whom they beat in their opening fixture of this edition.
The encounter would prove to be Morocco’s finest moment in their World Cup history, as they raced to a 2-0 lead, via a quick brace from Abderrazak Khairi in the first half.
Krimau made it 3-0 early in the second half, and not even an 80th minute strike from Diamantino could spur the Portuguese into a late resurgence, as the Lions booked their place into the next round with a 3-1 victory, sending their opponents back home as they were the only side in the Group not to progress.
If the group stage was tough on paper, the knockout stages would prove even tougher as they were drawn against an old foe, West Germany in the round of 16.
The North Africans put on a valiant effort, as they managed to run the European giants close, keeping them quiet for 87 minutes, before Lothar Matthaus’ decisive late strike ended the Lions campaign, with West Germany going through to the quarterfinals.
Morocco failed to qualify for the Italy World Cup in 1990, but were back at it again four years later.
The Lions eased past the first round of qualification unbeaten, before being drawn with Senegal and Zambia, who were rebuilding from the tragic 1993 plane crash where their entire squad – including the coaching staff were killed in the Atlantic Ocean.
The North Africans were in top form in qualification, losing once to Chipolopolo, as they pipped them by one point to book their tickets to the US of A.
World Cup finals
Representing Africa alongside Nigeria and 1990 quartefinalists, Cameroon, Morocco were drawn alongside the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Belgium.
They wouldn’t get off to the best start, as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Belgium in their opening game, before going down 2-1 to Saudi Arabia.
Things would not improve, as they next faced the Netherlands, with Dennis Bergkamp opening the scoring two minutes from the break, before a quick response in the second half from Hassan Nader leveled matters.
Second half sub, Bryan Roy would break Moroccan hearts, as he scored just 10 minutes after taking the field to give his side a 2-1 victory, and round off his opponents’ worst World Cup campaign to date.
For the first time in their history, the Lions managed to qualify for two consecutive World Cups.
They booked their place alongside a five-strong African contingent of Cameroon and Nigeria who had both respectively advanced to the quarterfinals in each of the previous two editions as well as Tunisia, who were competing in their second tournament, joined by debutants, South Africa.
World Cup finals
In the finals, they were drawn alongside, defending champions, Brazil, as well as Norway and Scotland.
Morocco kicked off their campaign against Norway in Stade de la Mosson in Montpelier, going up against the likes of Manchester United legend, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo, while boasting one of Africa’s best players at the time, Mustapha Hadji in their ranks.
Hadji would show his worth in the first half as, with less than ten minutes before the break, he opened the scoring, before his goal was cancelled out by an unfortunate own goal from Youssef Chippo.
Abdel Hadda restored Morocco’s lead, but it was only for a minute, as Dan Eggen made it 2-2, which remained the final score.
Next was a daunting task of facing the world champions, and it would prove too big of an assignment, as the contest was pretty much over by halftime.
Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto provided the goals as Brazil raced to 3-0 before the break, giving the North Africans their worst World Cup defeat in history.
They would however bounce back in their next game, dishing out the same treatment to Scotland as they themselves ran off 3-0 winners, a brace from Salah Bassir, with Hadda netting his second of the tournament.
That would not be enough to see them through to the next round, as they once again failed to emulate the heroics of 1986.