Play Maroc And Die
By Emeka Obasi
Moroccans are unstoppable in African football. RS Berkane are Super Cup holders as well as Confederation Cup champions. The CAF Champions League trophy is domiciled in Casablanca with Wydad Athletic.
The country won the African Nations Championships (CHAN). The Red Atlas Lions and Lionesses are World Cup bound and the Under 17 Cubs are back from India where they debuted at the FIFA Under 17 Women’s Championships.
The Maroc magic has left Nigeria looking like minnows. The year 2022 has confirmed that in soccer, Nigerians are like slaves, pushed around by their masters from across the Sahara.
It began with the Super Falcons. The perennial African champions were knocked out by the Atlas Lionesses in the last Women’s African Cup of Nations (WAFCON).
Referee Maria Rivet of Mauritius, did not spare her red card as she sent off the Falcons super force of Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimat Akande. Playing nine against eleven, Nigeria managed to keep scores even until penalty kicks decided.
In continental club competitions, Morocco diminished Nigeria. It began with Confederation Cup debutants, Remo Stars. The well managed Ikenne side earned a 1-1 draw against FAR in Rabat only to slump 1-0 at home in the second leg.
The worst came in the CAF Champions League. Defending champions, WAC walloped Rivers United 6-0 in Casablanca in what has become Nigeria’s worst continental result.
Rivers won the first leg 2-1 in Port Harcourt and the players were promised 40, 000 dollars each by Governor Nyesom Wike if they qualified for the group stage. Casablanca brought catastrophe and they let everyone down.
Kwara United took on cup holders RS Berkane in the Confederation Cup. A 3-1 advantage in Lagos disappeared in the second leg. The Ilorin side lost 2-0.
This is too much to bear but there is nothing Nigeria can do about it. The Moroccans will continue to dominate as long as changes are not made.
Football has gone digital in Morocco. King Mohammed VI is pushing his country further up the ladder. There is a magnificent Football Academy named after him around Rabat. It looks like something out of Africa, with a Five-Star hotel and other modern facilities.
Religion does not hinder anyone. Girls and boys are into sports and getting results. Money has been pumped into soccer and the best brains are managing the game.
Mouad Hajji had to abandon his job of General Secretary of CAF and head back home to be part of the Maroc Magic.
This reminds me of Chief Jerry Enyeazu, who was caused to leave his job as Director General, National Sports Commission (NSC) in 1976. He became Director of Sports in Imo.
Governor Ndubuisi Kanu had to personally write Enyeazu a letter begging him to come and serve in his new state.
Enyeazu performed magic. He founded two soccer clubs, Spartans (same as Iwuanyanwu National, Heartland) and Enyimba.
Enyimba became African champions in 2003 and again in 2004. The Elephants are the most successful Nigerian football team. Iwuanyanwu emerged as the first team to represent the country three times consecutively in the CAF Champions League.
Grasshoppers Handball club also became African champions. The same Enyeazu founded Enugu Rangers in 1970. They won the African Winners Cup in 1977 and remain the only club to win the Challenge Cup thrice consecutively.
Mouad Hajji is the Enyeazu of Morocco and with the support of King Mohammed and Football Federation chairman, Fouzi Lekjaa, things have moved up.
Nigeria can only remember the good times of yore when Green Eagles beat the Red Atlas Lions in the semifinals of the African Nations Cup, Lagos ’80.
The Eagles also thrashed the Lions in the same competition in 2000. Stationery Stores stopped defending champions WAC in 1993, Heartland stopped FAR in 2009 and Enyimba were better than Raja in 2011.
That past also produced some form of Maroc Magic. The Lions were the first to beat Eagles twice in the same African Nations Cup Championships.
At Ethiopia ’76, the Moroccans won 3-1 in Dire Dawa and again in Addis Ababa, they bagged a 2-1 victory. Funnily, Nigeria went ahead in both games. Sam Ojebode in the first clash, Baba Otu Mohammed in the second, were the scorers.
In the last eleven years, it has become pretty difficult for a Nigerian team to beat Morocco in North Africa.
Enyimba played very good football in 2011 and set a CAF Champions League record of 11 games unbeaten. That was until they confronted WAC in the semis.
In Casablanca, WAC scored in the very last minute to win 1-0. It ended scoreless in Aba. In the Group stage, the Elephants has beaten Raja 2-0 at home and bagged a goalless draw in Casablanca.
That was an Enyimba squad under Okey Emordi, the man who took them to continental glory in 2004. In that team were Victor Mbaoma, Victor Barnabas, Valentine Nwaebili, Uche Kalu, Chidozie Johnson, Godwin Paul, Samuel Tswanya, Chijioke Ejiogu and the Anyanwu trio of Nnaemeka, Emma and Kenneth.
WAC had earlier eliminated Kano Pillars with a 2-0 advantage at home and a barren outing in Kano.
In 2018, Raja defeated Enyimba home and away. In the 2019 Confederation Cup, Hassania Agadir beat the Aba Ngwa Boys 2-0 in Agadir and earned a 1-1 draw in Nigeria.
As two time champions in 2005, Enyimba could not overwhelm Raja in Casablanca. The home side played 10 men against eleven and were able to score ten minutes to time. The visitors even threw away a penalty, no thanks to Musa Aliyu.
Nigerians will not forget the Maroc ’88 African Nations Cup. In the grand finale against Cameroon, Mauritanian referee, Idrissa Sarr donated a phantom penalty to the Indomitable Lions and ignored Henry Nwosu’s beautiful goal off a delightful header.
When the Green Eagles touched down in Lagos with the silver medal, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu renamed the team, Super Eagles.
At the Tunisia 2004 African Nations Cup, some Eagles players were decamped after the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions. It was Austin Okocha’s tournament. Yet, Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji became African Footballer of the Year.
Morocco will not forget this one. In 1980, the Nigerian Supporters Club moved to Ibadan Group B, to support the Lions against defending champions, Black Stars of Ghana.
The Supporters wanted Morocco to win and emerge group runners- up and face the Eagles in the semifinals.
It happened. Nigeria stopped Morocco 1-0, romped into the final, trounced Algeria 3-0 to win their first African Nations Cup trophy.