Has Morocco Changed the Way the Beautiful Game is Played?

Looking back at the World Cup, it’s clear things have changed


Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech takes control of the ball.(Photos courtesy SABC Sports)

Roderick Cassidy, Editorial Board

Throughout the history of the sport, the way soccer teams play have been determined by general trends and developments by the best of the best. From the (at the time) novel idea of passing the ball in the 1880s, to the incredible fast pace of play found throughout some of the most successful teams of the modern decade, tactical innovations have changed the way for those who play the sport around the world, especially at its highest levels. In this recent World Cup however, we may have stumbled upon one of the greatest of these innovations from the only African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup ever, Morocco.
In the present state of soccer (commonly referred to as football outside of the U.S.), the main attention put on the success of teams is attacking. Messi, Ronaldo, and Mbappe are all hailed as some of the greats of the sport, not only for their general abilities, but also for their ability to score goals. For this reason, many successful teams have focused their efforts on “build-up” play, or moving the ball around to find a potential chance for one of their top attackers to seal the deal. For Morocco however, they decided to function in a more unique fashion, with their strategy lying heavily in their defense, limiting their opponent’s chances, and countering any mistakes made on the offensive end.
Although it’s easier said than done (especially on the world’s largest stage), Morocco has been able to use this mentality to conjure up the biggest underdog performance of the tournament, clearing through the powerhouses of Portugal, Spain, and even Belgium, who were the 2nd ranked team in the world leading into the competition. Although some of their players had ended up injured going into later matches, they were still able to conjure up a 4th place finish, despite having notably difficult matchups. One notable factor which may have assisted their success was the location of this year’s World Cup, in Qatar. Qatar, having nearly their entire population made up of those who follow Islam heavily supported Morocco, as they were the only team from a predominantly-Islamic nation heading into the final 8 of the tournament’s knockout stages. Outside of Qatar, many continued to follow and support the Moroccan squad in their underdog tale, with many from other countries supporting Morocco in the later stages of the tourney.
So will this mentality which lead a nation of 37.5 million to the top stages of the sport’s biggest stage bleed into the future of others? Although it may not be immediate, the work of Walid Regragui (who was hired less than 3 months before the World Cup nonetheless) at this level may very well leave a lasting legacy on the way the game is played.

Morocco head coach Walid Regragui is thrown about in celebration. (Photo courtesy SABC Sports)