On Saturday night, the script that everyone in the Middle East has dreamed on turned in to reality.
With Morocco’s 2-0 victory over the Ivory Coast in Abidjan and Tunisia 0-0 draw with Libya in Rades, the list of African qualifying teams for the World Cup has been determined.
Except the West African teams Nigeria, who’s a regular member of the World Cup tournament, and Senegal who will made their 2nd ever appearance and the first since 2002, the North African teams took over the rest of the spots.
Egypt completed a comeback to the most important stage in world football after 28 years, Morocco after 20 and Tunisia after 12. Together with Saudi Arabia, who also qualified for the first since 2006, the four Arab national teams will make Russia 2018 the most ‘Arab World Cup’ ever.
In addition, the best team in Asia – Iran – who is a regular participant in World Cups - will be there too. That concludes a record number of five MENA (Middle East & North Africa) teams to part in the world’s biggest football festival.
The Moroccan success did not come out of the blue. Morocco is slowly, but explosively, becomes the new power in African football. After years of staying behind in World Cup qualifiers and Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, seems that things are progressing in the right direction for the Maghrebiens.
In the past two years Morocco is working to improve their image in the Sports & Politics arena of Africa, and does it well. After forfeiting the 2015 AFCON hosting due to Ebola rumors and mutual disagreements with former Confederation Futbol Africain presiden, Issa Hayatou, Morocco have backed Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad for the CAF presidency , and when he won - Morocco have started to invest. By GDP, Morocco is the fifth largest economy in Africa and is already participating in the West African community – ECOWAS, while making some large scale business moves in the region.
A week ago the whole world saw Wydad Casablanca winning the African Champions League. Few are aware of the hard that the club’s president, Säid Naciri, is putting in the club. Wydad is becoming the first Moroccan continetal mega side, connecting the local football in the country with the wider Moroccan identity –decedents of those who immigrated to Europe few decades ago. Moroccan footballers which have been born in Holland, Belgium, France or Germany, are now playing in the country’s leading club. Wydad is defining the new Moroccan identity, the one who celebrated the World Cup qualifying on Saturday night, in Casablanca, but also in Amsterdam and Paris. Naciri, a well reckoned Moroccan businessman and politician, is aiming to highlight this exact identity, together with the innovative environment in Morocco, thorough his successful club.
In addition, Morocco will host the Championship of African Nations next year, and together with Herve Renard as a coach, who won twice the AFCON with Zambia and the Ivory Coast, it seems like the nation is on the right direction on everything football.
The Moroccan boom is part of a wider phenomenon. In Tunisia, who will also join the World Cup in a quiet stable route, things are looking thanks a quality front three in Whabi Khazri, Youssouf Msakni and Taha Khenissi. In Egypt, Mohammad Salah and his gang manage to gather a great squad and in Saudi Arabia the quality never ends. Taking Syria’s journey towards the competition and you’ll get the best generation of Arab international football in years.
Many would ask – ‘What are the reasons for that?’
Well, we cannot draw a straight line between the football success of countries across the region, but this line can tell the story of one of the most unstable areas in the world.
Each country has its own story and its football journey. Nowadays, when the Middle Eastern peoples are suffering from uncertainty & insecurity, football is filling the gap of the sense of belonging and revives the national and communal feelings from North Africa to Iran.
Football in the Middle East is always holding a story. With a true passion of the masses for the game, politics that intervene, rulers who has to satisfy his supporters, or an investment by an aspiring rich football fan, that aims to reach higher goals through the power of the beautiful game.
Despite many infrastructure problems throughout the local leagues, Middle Eastern football is flourishing in the national team’s level, thanks to endless passion for football across the region, and he good part - the pick will prevail in Russia, in June 2018, on The football world most lucrative stage.