Having defeated Belgium, Spain and Portugal, will Morocco fulfill Pele’s prophecy?

Morocco's performances so far: Drew 0-0 with Croatia. Beat Belgium 2-0. Beat Canada 2-1. Beat Spain 3-0 (penalties). Beat Portugal 1-0.

Many years ago, Pele, the super star of football, had predicted that one day an African team would rule the football world. Will Morocco be the team that will fulfill the prophecy made by the Brazilian maestro ?  It is becoming increasingly clear that this Moroccan team has the caliber to topple the European giants from their perch on the throne. How far can they take their golden run remains to be seen.

Their performance has been more than impressive. Morocco was in Group F for the league phase. In its group it defeated Belgium which is now the world’s number two ranked team. Belgium went down by two goals to Morocco. The official statistics provided by FIFA show an interesting picture. It was Belgium which had more passes (671 to 317), forced more corners (9 to 1), more crosses into the penalty box (19 to 9) but yet it was Morocco which won the match by scoring two goals with counter attacks. In the end it was the goals that mattered.

In fact that has been Morocco’s style of play throughout the tournament. Their rivals are confident of victory. Belgium was ranked number 2, Spain was ranked number 7 and Portugal was ranked number 11. Morocco was way below all these teams with a rank of 22. So their superior ranks inflated the ego of the rival teams. They came surging forward to get the goals that they expected would come to them easily.

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But Morocco stood up to the pressure. At times there would be no less than six red- shirted Moroccan players within their own penalty box. One or two more hovering outside. The rivals just could not break through. As the minutes ticked by, their frustration gew. In their eagerness to get a goal, even the defenders came forward and thereby there were yawning gaps left inside their own territory. And those gaps were cleverly utilised by Morocco whenever it took posession of the ball and launched furious counter attacks.

We saw this happening whenever Morocco played all the European rivals. The same pattern was repeated. It drew goalless with Croatia (which had placed second in the previous World Cup) and it defeated Canada and Belgium to top the Group. The expectations were that either Belgium or Croatia would be the topper. Morocco may finish third at the most . That was the opinion of most experts. But Morocco stunned everyone by topping the Group.

In the knockout stages they continued their winning streak. Against Portugal they were reduced to ten men in the last few minutes due to a red card. To hold off a rampaging Cristiano Rolando and Bruno Fernandes in this situation needed tremendous fighting spirit.

But the journey will get even harder now. Two big battles lie ahead of them. First of all they will have to beat defending champion France. Then they will have to defeat the team that wins the other semifinals. It will be either Argentina or Croatia. The rival coaches have seen Morocco’s game.  France’s coach Didier Deschamps is a brainy man. He had won the World Cup himself as a player in 1998. He has coached numerous top clubs in Europe and has been the coach of France for 10 years. He coached France to a World Cup triumph in 2018.

Deschamps will study all the aspects of Morocco’s game. He will instruct his players to keep the gaps covered in their own half even when attacking. The danger from Morocco will come from counter attacks, he will tell them. Football is like a chess game being played in fast motion and each coach has to outwit his rival in tactics.

But the Moroccan coach Walid Regragui is not less clever and he has made optimum use of his resources so far. The 47 year old coach has received immense acclaim for his leadership. Incidentally he was born in France and had played for leading clubs in France and Spain. He is known to be a coach who is not afraid to take calculated risks.

The Moroccan coach and his players know that the entire world is watching them with bated breath. The hopes of the African and Arab nations rest upon their shoulders. This itself should be a huge inspiration and motivation. That driving emotion and passion may take them over the line ahead of the others. It is likely that many others will be rooting for them too. Everyone loves a small team when it performs well.

Morocco’s performances so far: Drew 0-0 with Croatia. Beat Belgium 2-0. Beat Canada 2-1. Beat Spain 3-0 (penalties). Beat Portugal 1-0.

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