Rabat - The Atlas Lions failed to deliver in their game against Comoros Saturday after several ecstatic months.
Rabat – The Atlas Lions failed to deliver in their game against Comoros Saturday after several ecstatic months.
Lionized as the golden generation of Moroccan football and hailed for their technical genius and defensive discipline, the Moroccan national team was among the few teams whose early exit at the World Cup was thought of as a misfortune and poor refereeing.
“Eliminated but proud,” fans said after the Russia 2018 fiasco. “They deserved better than the one point that they collected in three matches,” specialists concurred. Morocco came out of its World Cup adventure as one of the most promising African sides, with huge potential to shine on the continental level for years to come.
On Saturday night, however, as Morocco’s Atlas Lions took on Comoros’s Coelacanths, Herve Renard’s once brilliant and technically-gifted squad was unrecognizable at best, wasteful and shambolic at worst.
Morocco won 1-0 in the end, after Ali Lemghaifry, the Mauritanian referee, “gifted” the Lions a late-minute penalty.
Overconfidence and mediocre performance
“As you said, this is not one of the best African footballing nations,” Herve Renard said in a pre-match press conference, referring to the Comoros team. The tone and mild words indicated a relaxed attitude before a slight challenge, an encounter with an opponent that does not seem to matter much.
The Frenchman’s words were dismissive throughout. He went on to speak not of the two immediate against Comoros, but of hosting Cameroon, the group B leader, whom Morocco will play on November 16.
But after 90 minutes of tense challenges from a team everyone seemed to have overlooked, Renard was the first to see the error of his ways. He conceded that his side was amateurish, lacking drive and looking like a C level team that bore no resemblance to the reborn and joy-inspiring squad the Moroccan football team has become under his two-year tenure.
“We were very bad, and we only won by a lucky twist of fate. My thanks go to the public that kept on supporting us despite the boys’ mediocre performance. Tonight, our playing style was more of kick and run than of football.”
‘Unfair refereeing’ and brave ‘Comoros’
It took an entire 90 minutes of suffering for the Atlas Lions to beat “this small nation in the Indian Ocean,” Moroccan outlet le 360 wrote. It explained that had luck and the gods of the game not been more complacent toward Morocco, Comoros’s organization and better performance could have easily gotten the better of the North African Lions.
Putting in a dose of self-flagellation, Al Akhbar, another Moroccan outlet, headlined that the Moon Island—a translation of Comoros—totally eclipsed the Moroccan sun in the course of a 90-minute hard-fought battle.
Seemingly more disappointed, others rejected the general mood of self-flagellation, unfilled expectations, and misused potential. For them, the Morocco squad was neither more technical nor lucky at the end: It won because of bad refereeing that on many occasions favored Morocco.
Taking to Twitter yesterday, former Atlas Lion Abdeslam Ouaddou fumed at the “distressing” level of refereeing in African football.
Although the challenge on Achraf Hakimi inside the Comoros penalty box was “a logical penalty,” he said, the refereeing was one-sided and “partial.” “I hate injustice,” the ex-Lion concluded.
The second head-to-head between the two teams is to be played tomorrow in Comoros at 1 p.m. Moroccan time, as Morocco looks to secure its qualifying chances before hosting leader Cameroon in a month’s time.
But judging from both squads’ performances on Saturday night, the Atlas Lions will need a major technical reshuffling to hope to convincingly beat their hosts.