Morocco’s national football team has qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after tying with Mauritania 0-0.
Fans on both sides may have been left utterly let down by the disappointing football the two teams offered. But it is to the players’ credit that the pitch was so poor and unplayable that it was almost heroic on their part that they lasted for 90 minutes on such a catastrophic pitch without any of them picking up a serious, season-threatening injury.
And yet, Atlas Lions fans can — or will — bemoan an apparent return to the episode of underwhelming and unthreatening brilliance that this new-look Moroccan team was supposed to have left behind it since its last spiritless display against Mauritania in the first leg of tonight’s game.
The fact is that since an embarrassingly underwhelming performance against the Mauritanian national team in November 2019, the Atlas Lions have mostly been reliable and clinical.
Tonight, however, the two teams were as tepid and uninspired as in the first leg. In their defense, though, the Moroccan Lions had little, if anything at all, to play for or prove in tonight’s encounter.
For one thing, the 2-2 draw between the Central African Republic and Burundi, the two other teams making up Group E, meant the Moroccan squad had already officially qualified for the next Africa Cup of Nations.
Of course, this does not excuse Morocco’s lackadaisical display; nor does it come close to consoling fans who are still hankering for their team to reassure them that they can be counted upon to do much better than their last participation in the African Cup of Nations.
But it can at least help in making sense of the utterly insipid football that unfolded before our eyes as two teams — one already qualified and destined for the top spot of Group E, and the other almost certain of finishing second if it could avoid defeat — battled for no discernible reward.
All of this means the onus was on Mauritania, still fighting for a second, qualifying spot, to take advantage of the occasion and get the best of a not particularly motivated Moroccan side.
Frustratingly for Mauritania, such was the superiority of the Moroccan team that it was they, and not the Mauritanians, that appeared to be pushing to avoid an embarrassing result. Morocco was clearly not on their best day, but they equally seemed intent to muster just enough points to confirm their qualification for the next African cup of Nations
As usual, Morocco dominated possession and seemed more enterprising and threatening with the ball. Then again, with limited urgency and no qualifying spot at stake, the intermittent sprints and daring attempts at long diagonal passes yielded nothing of note.
For the whole 45 minutes of the first half, it seemed as though the two teams were more interested in keeping each other at bay than in actually putting on a decent spectacle. The only quasi-spectacular moments of the first half came in the last five minutes.
As they sensed a lack of urgency from Morocco, Mauritania grew into the game and started chasing for a goal that would put them in the driver’s seat. Upfront, Mauritania’s Aboubacar Kamara gave the Moroccan defense a hard time. In the end, however, the two teams ended the first 45 minutes with a 0-0 scoreline and scant promise of a much more improved, urgency-filled second half.
Quite predictably, the second half never came close to keeping the promises of high intensity that, however unexciting, the tense last minutes of the first half had elicited. Sure enough, Mauritania, still looking to secure its qualification, tried to bring more urgency and physicality.
Aboubakar Kamara remained a steadying force and a difficult opponent for the Moroccan defense. But that was about it; the remaining details of the match — hesitant duels, tactical rigidity, waffling intensity — cast an unflattering light on two sides barely battling to get their grip on a low intensity contest.
In the aggregate, Morocco’s Atlas Lions, who are currently Africa’s fourth best team — behind Senegal, Tunisia, and Algeria — failed to gather steam throughout the game.
Even with the gulf in class evident for all to see, Morocco’s sometimes beautiful football possession and successive passes were ultimately toothless in the face of Mauritania’s reserved approach that consisted of alternating between attacking and defensive bouts.
There were even short spells in the second half when, not satisfied with only defanging Morocco’s superior experience and personnel, Mauritania seemed to impose its rhythm and force the Moroccan Lions into adopting a defensive, hesitant posture.
This was particularly true of the final minutes of the match, with the Mauritanians now pushing, however desperately, for a last-grasp victory that would avoid them some headache for their upcoming, consequential match against the Central African Republic.
As they kept their last-minute energy rolling, however, they lacked the attacking depth and the creative vigor to go the extra mile.
With tonight’s scoreless draw, Morocco now is the first in Group E with 11 points, ahead of second-placed Mauritania which has only 6 points. The atlas Lions will play Burundi (5 points) on Tuesday, March 30 in Rabat, while Mauritania will play its qualification on the same day against the Central African Republic (4 points).