Cape Town – Morocco’s stunning World Cup last-16 round win over the 2010 champions Spain has drawn sharp focus on the make-up of the Atlas Lions who have 14 players of their 26-man squad who are foreign-born.
When you watch the Moroccan players standing to attention on Saturday for the pre-match rendition of the national anthem, you will notice some are struggling with the lyrics. It is not a sign of protest rather some of the players are at sea with the Arabic words.
Some of Morocco’s players were born in Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Canada. One reading about the diversity of the Moroccan team, and that more than 130 players at the World Cup are representing a country other than that of their birth, one hack at the World Cup was moved to comment: “this is the World Cup of Immigration”.
No team at the tournament has more foreign-born players than Morocco. Two African teams Tunisia and Senegal each have 12-foreign born players in their squads. Most of the players from Tunisia and Senegal were born in France.
Walid Regragui, Morocco’s French-born coach (born to Moroccan parents in Paris), has over the past two years had to deal with the unhappiness of local players not making the cut for the Atlas Lions squad.
“For me, I fight for that a lot of times with my country,” said Regragui after the team’s historic win over Spain. “Before this World Cup, we had a lot of problems with the guys born in Europe and the guys born in Morocco.
“Today, I think it showed to the world every Moroccan is Moroccan with his passport,” said Regragui. “When he (a player) comes to the national team, you want to die, you want to fight. And that is what I want to show. And now, we have one example.
“You have different football. You have some players … born in Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands and Belgium. Every country has a football culture, and you make a milkshake with that.
“We realized we we were going to have a lot of possession. We were humble enough to say we aren’t France, Belgium or Germany.
“Of course, we want to go down in the history books. We are trying to make some momentum here in Africa. A lot of African teams are making great strides.”
“We didn’t want to play for penalties, but we knew we had one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”