And again, 20 years later, the Morocco national football team passed qualification for the FIFA World Cup. The tournament in Russia will be the fifth for the Moroccans. Morocco was qualified for the World Cup as the winner of qualifying Group C in AFC where they could outqualify the strong Cote d'Ivoire national football team. Faultless defensive play became the key to success of the Moroccan team. In the qualifying tournament “Atlas Lions” missed no goal.
For the first time the Moroccans competed in 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico. At the group stage Morocco played with the teams of Bulgaria, Peru and Germany. The Africans had just a few chances to leave such a group, nevertheless, “Atlas Lions” displayed worthy football. In the first match against German the Moroccans were the first to score a goal — the first goal of Morocco in the World Cups was scored by the forward Houmane Jarir. Long enough Morocco was ahead, but, nevertheless, they couldn’t maintain the lead and create a sensation: within the second half, the Germans managed to show themselves twice and to win. In the last round “Atlas Lions” could draw against the Bulgaria national football team and gather the first point within the World Cups. Unfortunately, with one point for three matches the Moroccans took the last place in the group. Nevertheless, their debut performance can be considered as successful.
16 years later, Morocco was qualified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico again, and demonstrated their best result in the history. At the group stage Morocco got into the strongest group with the teams of Portugal, England and Poland. The Africans brilliantly played in defense and never lost during three matches. The first two rounds “Atlas Lions” tied the games 0:0 with the teams of England and Poland. The Moroccans should have tied the last match of the group stage against Portugal to get into round of last 16, but they appeared ahead of schedule — a magnificent victory 3:1, and Morocco wins the group. Thus, for the first time ever the African country overcame the group stage in the World Cup. Alas, in round of last 16, Morocco wasn’t lucky — the skilled and strong team of Germany became the opponent of “Atlas Lions”. The Moroccans were great defenders and fought off attacks of the Germans throughout the whole match, but at the last minute they missed a goal and left the tournament.
In the 90s Morocco participated in two World Cups in a row but couldn’t achieve the success of 1986. In 1994 FIFA World Cup USA, Morocco lost all three games and took the last place in spite of the fact that their group opponents were quite go-through (The Netherlands, Belgium and Saudi Arabia). Four years later in France, “Atlas Lions” competed at the World Cup much more brightly. Having lost 0:3 the match against the defending World Cup Champions — the Brazilians, and having drawn against the Norway national football team, before the last round Morocco had chances to get into play-offs. For this purpose it was necessary to win against the group outsider — the Scotland national football team, and also to wait for a misfire of the Norwegians in the match against the Brazilians. The Moroccans brilliantly coped with their part — a confident victory 3:0. And the Brazilians missed two goals from the Norway national football team within the last seven minutes of the match. As a result, Norway took the second place and got into round of last 16, and Morocco finished their performance in the tournament.
Twice the Morocco national football team reached the cup-final of the African Cup of Nations. In far 1976 in the tournament in Ethiopia, “Atlas Lions” could win the trophy. The Moroccan midfielder Ahmed Faras, one of the most outstanding footballers for all its history, was recognized as the tournament best player. The second success came to the Moroccans recently. In Tunisian 2004 African Cup of Nations, “Atlas Lions” could reach the final where they conceded to the tournament hosts. The midfielder of the Morocco national football team Youssef Mokhtari became the top scorer of the Cup.
As we see, the Morocco national football team is an average African team which seldom obtains great success. The squad is mostly represented by footballers from German and French clubs. However, there are no bright stars among “Atlas Lions”. Two representatives of the Italian Serie A — Omar El Kaddouri (Napoli) and Mehdi Benatia (Juventus) are most known, but both players aren’t first-team regulars in their clubs. Strength of the Morocco national football team is defensive game. However, it cannot be enough for a successful performance in the World Cup. Getting into the play-offs will be great progress for Atlas “Atlas Lions”.