For the thousands of fans watching in the stadium and the millions around the world, it was just another football moment in history. However, for every Moroccan, this was a landmark moment, rewarding over a decade of planning and hard work.
QATAR 2022: Morocco’s moment of success, result of a 13-year plan
When Achraf Hakimi stood over the final penalty against Spain, he had the weight of a continent on his shoulders, but he slotted it home with such calmness and confidence that told the story of a team well-prepared for any obstacle that came their way.
As Morocco faces yet another seemingly herculean task against a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, they will carry the hope of the African continent and the Arab contingent. Morocco's head coach, Walid Regragui, is well aware of the pressures on his team. "Before, it was just the Moroccans who supported us,” he said before the game against Spain. “Now it is the Africans and Arabs,” he added.
While Morocco’s advancement to the semifinals will see the world pay homage to African football, more importantly, it will demonstrate to the rest of the African continent the value of proper planning and investment.
How Morocco’s decade-long football plan propelled them to success
Walid Regragui and his team of brave footballers should rightfully get all the plaudits for this achievement, some approbation should also go to the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF).
The federation became intentional about the nation’s football ecosystem and immediately moved to secure the support of King Mohammed VI over ten years ago. Grassroots football, women’s football, and a sustainable funnel of footballing talents were the focus.
A national football academy was set up, the Mohamed VI Football Academy in Salé, near Rabat, while Moroccan talents in the diaspora were unearthed via a network of scouts around the world.
Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesryi, Angers’ Azzedine Ounahi, and West Ham’s center-back Nayef Aguerd are two notable products of the Mohammed VI Football Academy, an academy that has become a source of talent for top European clubs.
Ounahi’s talent was recognized by Luis Enrique, as Spain’s former coach had great words for the midfielder's pleasant display after Morocco’s penalty shootout win. “I was pleasantly surprised by number eight (Azzedine Ounahi). My God, where is this boy from?” he said.
The FMRF did not put all its focus on men’s football, as women’s football has also been on an upward trajectory as a result of this grand plan.
Morocco has two professional female football divisions (the only country in the world to have such) due to investment from the FMRF. Female football has also been developed in Moroccan schools, ensuring that there is a proper funnel for female talents in the country.
The result of this was seen in the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations, as the Atlas Lionesses reached the final against all odds, defeating Nigeria along the way, and finished second after losing to South Africa.
They will be playing in their first female World Cup in 2023, hosted jointly by New Zealand and Australia. Morocco also won the African Nations Championship, a competition in which nations fielded teams made up solely of players who competed domestically.
This success story is not limited to the Moroccan national teams, as Moroccan clubs have also lately dominated the continental club football scene. Moroccan clubs are the current holders of the men's and women's African Champions League championships as well as the men's Confederations Cup.
The Mohammed VI Football Complex
Apart from the human resource investment, perhaps the most notable achievement of the FMRF is the Mohammed VI Football Complex. This magnificent football training complex is located in Rabat and is the largest of its kind in Africa and one of the largest in the world.
The training complex has eight FIFA-standard fields, including one indoor pitch in a climate-controlled building, four five-star hotels, and a medical centre with a dentist.
This complex houses the Mohammed VI Football Academy and has been lauded by FIFA as a show of dedication to football development.
Morocco's World Cup is a great story for every football lover; however, it is an achievement born through preparation and proper planning rather than luck or a fairytale. With over a decade of investment, the Moroccan football federation has worked its way up the football ladder.