Morocco's Atlas Lions have not exactly lived up to what many expected from them being that the seemed to be Africa's strongest representative going into the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Morocco looked strong going to Russia
Anyone observing the Moroccan national team during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers last year would have said they were Africa's strongest side going to Russia and possibly the strongest Moroccan side ever.
Aside from going through the toughest final stage of the African qualifiers with the unique honor of not conceding a single goal, they achieved two exceptional results even the other strongest African teams will envy; beating the Malian side by a whopping six goals to nil and beating the highly rated Ivory Coast by a two nil margin on their home soil.
The unforgettable 1986 experience
Many Moroccan and even African soccer fans were probably looking forward to a performance that will surpass that of Aziz Bouderbala and co in Mexico in1986. It has not been that in Russia.
In that unforgettable performance in 1986, Morocco became the first African side to go past the group stage in a world cup tournament, creating the belief for African teams that Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and Algeria have since built upon.
Atlas Lions' losses in Russia
At Russia 2018, however, the exotically named Atlas Lions have exited having lost 2 group matches and achieved a draw with Spain, but it is the first result that was quite disturbing. If Morocco had a good chance of qualifying from their group, it could surely only have happened by their seizing the opportunity to beat Iran, the other less rated side therein.
Why has the Moroccan team in Russia failed to measure up to expectation?
In truth, their lack of consistency in attack during the qualifiers was not entirely invisible given that they scored quite impressively but in only 3 of 6 of their final group qualifiers.
Neglecting their home based players
A better performance in Russia may have come the Lions' way if they had built their world cup squad around the home based side that won the African Nations Championship on home soil earlier this year. That squad scored 16 goals in 6 matches en route their victory, scoring at least 2 goals in each of their important matches and defeating their fellow African giants Nigeria by a spectacular four goals to nil in the final.
A little more belief in this home based squad may have seen the Atlas Lions add a strong offensive bite to their disciplined defense, and Morocco might have contended well for a second round ticket in Russia. As it stands, they will be leaving Russia with just a point which means they take last place in their group. Not a good standing for an African giant.
Home based players are a necessary world cup risk
This is a lesson African footballing nations should learn from. Home based players are a necessary world cup risk!
In any African world cup team, the foreign professionals are surely not to be done away with, but there must be a balance. Competition for places in the national team should be as tough for foreign pros as it is for domestic league players. Ideally the balance in any African team going to the world cup should be 12 domestic league players and 11 foreign based professionals.
The problem with Africa's foreign professional soccer legion is that they lack the hunger of the home based players. They earn quite well by African standards and are prone to at least slightly excessive injury avoidance in order to protect their mostly European club soccer careers. No African world cup squad should be made up entirely of such players.
European clubs will surely have their radars also on players who have only played in Africa but manage to outplay top European and South American players at the world cup. Africa's home based players would be aware of this by now and they should not be denied the chance to exploit it! If only North and Sub Saharan African soccer administrators would take note of this.