It was 1976, Romanian Gheorge Madarescou steered the
Atlas Lions to their first Africa Nations Cup in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was
hailed as a "historic day", ' all for one, one for all' could have been their
motto. With an impenetrable defense, and magnific attack, Faras, the first
Moroccan winner of the golden ball, give Morocco the opportunity and honour of
lifting the African Cup trophy.
For a country that represented the continent at the World Cup as early as 1970,
the Atlas Lions were late starters as they could only manage their maiden
appearance at the 1972 edition and were thrown out in the first round. They
failed to qualify for the next edition and had to wait for another four years
before making another try for the coveted trophy.
though, that marked the turning point for Morocco, as they surpassed all
expectations by winning the Nations Cup in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The win was
achieved courtesy the presence of some of the finest players that ever graced
the pitches of the African continent, the foremost being the mercurial Ahmed
Faras who rated as one of the deadliest strikers in the 1970s. For five
consecutive years Faras featured prominently in Africa's annual Footballer of
the Year poll from 1972 to 1976. He was winner of the coveted prize in 1976.
Thus Morocco attended Ethiopia '76 with Africa's best player even though the
Atlas Lions were rated amongst the outsiders despite having attended the World
Cup six years earlier. Defending champions Zaire (now Congo DR) who were at the
World Cup in Germany in 1974 were top shots and were tipped to retain the Cup
they won in Egypt.
fate would have it, Morocco and Zaire played in Group B in Dire Dawa alongside
1970 champions Sudan and second timers Nigeria. They got up to a deceptive start
when they drew 2-2 with Sudan but the Atlas Lions picked up the next game,
accruing full points after a late goal gave them a 1-0 victory over the highly
rated Zairians. That spelt the beginning of a revival for the Moroccans who went
ahead to win the group, following a 3-1 defeat of Nigeria. Though, Nigeria
scored within the first five minutes of the game, it was the mercurial Faras
that equalized three minutes later to pave way for a comfortable victory.
The Moroccans who needed just a draw went ahead to pip Guinea who needed a
victory in the final round in Addis Ababa. The Guineans led by the skillful Papa
Camara were heading for victory until the never-say-die Faras struck three
minutes to the end of the encounter to bring scores to 1-1.
Why they failed to do it again ? It is certainly no fluke that Morocco's
national football team has topped the African ranking list for many past years.
With brilliant coaches and several top-quality players in highly competitive
European leagues, there is no denying the class of the Moroccan team. Morocco's
lack of success at African level is a national debate; time and again football
critics Africa over have reasoned that the generation of unquestionable
individual talent as Zaki, Bouderbala, Timoumi, Dolmy, Haji, Naybet, Bassir,
Shippo should have won at least 2 titles. Bad luck or failure. The criticism has
not stopped, and the answers still not found. So where does all go wrong for the
Atlas lions in battles on African soils ?