Caitlin Dearing Scott
September 6, 2017
Morocco’s Atlas Lions made it one step further in their quest to qualify for the 2018 Soccer World Cup, drawing with Mali after having beaten the Malian squad 6-0 on September 1. For the moment, the Lions remain in second place in Group C behind Ivory Coast and will face Gabon October 7 and Ivory Coast November 6. To qualify, Morocco will need to win Group C. According to ESPN, the race between Ivory Coast and Morocco looks set to go down to the wire, with the November 6 game a “potentially explosive winner-takes-all clash.” If they can pull it off, it will be the first time Morocco has qualified in over 20 years.
Off the pitch, Morocco is also seeking big victories. In late August, FIFA confirmed Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup, putting it in competition with the joint bid from the US, Canada, and Mexico. Morocco can count on the support of the Confederation of African Football, whose President, Ahmad Ahmad, has called Morocco a “stronghold of African and world football,” but its success will depend on getting support from the European and Asian Federations (which are prohibited for bidding to host based on FIFA’s host rotation rules).
There are a few reasons for hope. As The National noted, Morocco “has plenty of merits for FIFA to consider,” including a convenient location (and time zone) for European fans, six stadiums with capacities of over 45,000 to comply with FIFA requirements, and demonstrated success in hosting the FIFA Club World Cup in 2013 and 2014. That said, billions would still need to be invested in stadiums and other infrastructure. Though the bid may be a long shot, it nevertheless demonstrates Morocco’s long-term interests in becoming a sports leader in Africa, part of a broader effort led by King Mohammed VI to expand Morocco’s political and economic engagement on the continent.
The vote for the 2026 World Cup won’t take place until May 2020, giving Morocco plenty of time to demonstrate its sports leadership. In the meantime, the hope is that the Lions will get the chance to represent Morocco – and Africa – on the field.