Morocco set new standards for African football just over 12 months ago at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, but it is under pressure to improve its modest record in the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins in Ivory Coast next Saturday.
Morocco became the first Arab and African country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup after its exciting career that enchanted the continent, but it is now expected to transfer this brilliance to the “Cannes” and erase the record of continuous continental failure.
The Moroccan national team is one of 12 of the 24 teams in the tournament that have previously won the title, but its only victory came nearly half a century ago in 1976. The team, nicknamed the “Atlas Lions,” has a long history of early exit, contrary to expectations.
Coach Walid Regragui said during preparations for the tournament, “It is true that the last World Cup gave us experience in major tournaments, but for us the truth is that the African Cup is always a complicated tournament.”
He added, “This is not the first time that Morocco has entered the tournament as one of the favorites and the closest to winning the title, but unfortunately we did not succeed in qualifying for the semi-finals regularly. This shows that the experience of participating in tournaments is not a major factor that guarantees us victory.”
— ENDM 🇲🇦 (@ENDM_Twit) January 9, 2024
Teams that challenge Morocco
There will be many teams keen to outperform Morocco, most notably host Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and defending champion Senegal.
Sadio Mane once again leads the Senegal squad, which, like Morocco, beat Brazil in a friendly match last year and is full of experience and talent.
Senegal deserved to win the last continental title in Cameroon, even if it needed a penalty shootout to beat Egypt in the final.
Ivory Coast is expected to go far in the tournament as well, although the pressure from the home fans is often very heavy. In 2006, Egypt was the last host country to win the title, and ironically, its victory came on penalties at the expense of Ivory Coast.
Ivory Coast will play its opening match next Saturday against Guinea Bissau in Group A.
On paper, Nigeria's squad appears to be among the best in its history for years, but its recent results have not been impressive. Last November, it tied with its guest, modest Lesotho, in the World Cup qualifiers, and last year it also lost at home to small Guinea-Bissau.
Egypt is represented, led by its star Mohamed Salah, and Algeria, the 2019 champion, joins Morocco in leading the challenge from the Arab countries in North Africa, in addition to Tunisia, which achieved a record with its 16th consecutive participation in the tournament.
To Ivory Coast to write history, God willing.
Oh Lord ❤️🇪🇬 pic.twitter.com/mcifn8v1fc
– Amr (@bt3) January 9, 2024
Teams that have previously won the title will participate in this tournament, such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa and Zambia, all of whom may mix the cards and achieve a surprise.
The tournament will be held in 6 different stadiums, 4 of which were built specifically for the tournament. There is a strong focus on the condition of the stadiums, which has negatively affected previous tournaments, and the organizers have hired French experts to help ensure the efficiency of the stadium floors.
The tournament was supposed to be held last June, but it was postponed for 6 months due to fears of the rainy season in West Africa at this time, and returned in the middle of the European local championship season, which sparked the dissatisfaction of many coaches.