Moroccan fans are celebrating Algeria’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2019 win as if it were their own.
Rabat – After our national team’s elimination in the round of 16, Moroccans found solace watching neighboring Algeria snatch its second continental title.
Moroccan fans cheering for the players of ‘’Les Verts’’, as the Algerian team is fondly called in French, as if they were their own, is both a reminder of the close relationship between people in both countries and a wake-up call for our football officials. They need to work harder if they are really sincere in their proclaimed goal to see our team achieve what our Algerian counterparts have accomplished.
Divided by politics, united by football
Watching Moroccan and Algerian fans, along the closed borders between the two countries, united in celebration of Les Verts’ wins during the AFCON is one of the most beautiful scenes of the tournament.
People sent their love to each other across the borders, showing how much the game has brought them together despite the fact that the relationship between the two governments is as cold as ever.
One imagines that Moroccan fans would not have cheered for the other two Arab teams, Egypt, and Tunisia, with the same enthusiasm they showed for Algeria.
Morocco’s elimination probably gave more reasons for our football fans to cheer for Les Verts. They probably saw in the Algerian team what the Moroccan squad lacked.
The Algerians played very well throughout the tournament. They showed a lot of heart and determination to prevail over their opponents. It was clear that their hearts were set on winning the title.
It was not only the positive qualities of the Algerian team that prompted Moroccan fans to ally themselves with their neighbors. Moroccan fans cheering for the Algerian team were conscious of the history and culture they share with their neighbors on the other side of the border.
What is striking is that games between the two teams have always been intense. Whenever Morocco managed to beat their neighbors, especially when it came to such impressive victories as in 2004 or 2011, this was always a reason for exuberant celebration for Moroccan fans.
Other than that, one would mostly always expect that Moroccans would support Les Verts against any opponent.
A football lesson
One might not be sure how far it is correct to say that the Algerian team, and their coach Djamel Belmadi, have provided us with a football lesson, but I would like to think of it that way.
We saw how several players in the team played a key part in their journey towards the title. Youcef Belaili scored the winning goal against Senegal in the first round of the tournament. Riyadh Mahrez’s wonder free-kick goal put Les Verts in the final, and Baghdad Boundjah scored the most important goal for Algeria since 1990 when the team won their first continental title.
Our team seemed to lack the ability to score goals by more than one player. We had to rely on one striker, Youssef En-Nesyri, during the team’s four games in the tournament.
Not that Morocco lacked strikers. What was frustrating for Moroccan fans and some people in the media is that our former coach, Hervé Renard, continually chose to ignore players who stood out as top scorers in recent years.
Among those is Youssef El Arabi, Morocco’s former forward and the Qatari League’s top scorer for two seasons in a row.
While some used to find excuses for Renard by saying that the French coach favored players from European leagues because tournaments in the Gulf countries are not truly competitive, one needs only to remind them that Algeria’s Bounedjah also plays in the Qatari league.
Abderazak Hamadallah, who became Saudi League’s top scorer in history joined the team shortly before AFCON. He was called up apparently only because of increased pressure on Renard. However Hamdallah mysterious left the squad as the Lion Atlas was preparing to fly to Egypt ahead of their first game against Namibia.
Oualid Azarou was snubbed by Renard but was crowned the top scorer of the Egyptian league. Raja Athletic Club’s (RCA) forward Mouhcine Iajour, the Moroccan league’s top scorer last season, was also conspicuously missing from the team.
Whether media reports that some French-speaking players in the team made sure to keep other players out is fact or fiction, or whether it was the coach’s decision, it was a dangerous gamble that Morocco paid for.
What Moroccan fans would like to see is more transparency in the way things are run as far as the national football team is concerned. They also want to see that players who stand out are given the chance to represent their country, whether they play for teams in Europe, Africa, or the local Moroccan league.
What they would certainly want to see is a Moroccan team with more consistency, and this is what Algeria showed in this year’s tournament.
They won all their games, were the best scoring team with 12 goals and had the second-best defense.
While Algerians deservedly celebrate Les Verts’ outstanding AFCON performances, Moroccans will gladly join in.
The amount of love that people from both countries have shown for each other is a wake-up call for sports clubs, civil society, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens from both countries. They must continue building bridges that will allow people more interaction with one another in hopes of alleviating the burden of decades-long political hostility.