When Morocco topped their group stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, many football fans were amazed but they were pleasantly surprised when this 34 million population country reached the Semi-finals. The first ever from Africa.
Vuvuzela engulfed many Kenyan watch parties including at the Kenya National Archives where Governor Johnson Sakaja’s administration brought chairs and a big screen relaying World Cup matches live.
Their achievement was hailed as Africa’s victory. It united the 54-nation continent in joy and brought a deep sense of self-esteem and belonging.
The Atlas Lions under local coach Walid Regragui, were a pride to watch and made us feel the same way when a Kenyan wins a gold medal at World Athletics Championships or when Lupita Nyong’o became the first black African to win the Oscars in 2014.
We recall how Morocco beat Canada, Spain and Portugal in a tough group as they surged forward to carry the African dream.
Morocco had qualified for the final stages of the World Cup in 1970, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2018 and last year was their best performance losing to Croatia for third position.
Now, I was humbled to meet Regragui this week at the King Mohammed VI National Football Training Complex in Morocco. A tour of the facility demonstrates why the Atlas Lions historic run in Qatar wasn’t luck. It is a product of years of investment in youth football and training facilities.
The world class facility in political capital Rabat is a tip of the iceberg of what this nation is doing to tap into their rich youthful talent. On the same day, I watched the opening ceremony and first match of the FIFA Club World Cup at Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier after an hour and a half bullet train ride to the Mediterranean city.
Thousands of Moroccans thronged the stadium, the freezing temperatures down to 10 degrees Celsius, notwithstanding.
It was such a beautiful scene seeing families including children watching the historic match that ended with Egypt’s El-Ahly devouring New Zealand’s Auckland FC 3-0.
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The singing, the flags, the drums, the fireballs, and the dancing were amazing. I hadn’t experienced such.
The match organisation was top notch, with excellent crowd control. A trip down to the city of Agdir at the local stadium whose architectural splendour allows it to blend with the dry mountainous landscape is proof that the football fraternity and the government are in serious business.
The 45,000 capacity stadium is one of the bids for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) by Morocco.
Even as our Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba projects Kenya to host such continental matches, we have a lot to borrow from our Moroccan brothers.
Kenya is yet to imagine such a facility as Mohammed VI complex that would offer training grounds for visiting teams resplendent with accommodation and health facilities that any top footballer would dream of.
The writer is a journalist and creative economy PhD candidate