The Phoenicians were the first people to set foot on the mild Moroccan coasts and they founded the city of Carthage, the seat of the first stable civilization to govern the Northwest of Africa (known as the Maghreb). They joined with the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa (the Berbers) and coexisted until the arrival of the Romans.
After the Punic war and the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C, the Romans established a rule of tyranny in the Maghreb until 110 B.C, when there was a rebellion against the Romans.
Next came the Vandals from the North of Germany, crossing the Pyrenees to invade North Africa. They occupied Carthage until the Berbers rose in rebellion in 477 A.D. The Vandals weakened until the Byzantines replaced them. After 632, Muslim armies emerged from the Arabian Peninsula to conquer the Persian and the Byzantine empires and managed to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean. When they took over Egypt, they extended their domination to the west, toward the Maghreb countries. It was then that they founded the city of Kairouan.
A momentous chapter in the history of Morocco was recorded when Berbers, filling the ranks of the Arab army, contributed decisively to the conquest of Andalusia in 711. At the same time, the land of the Maghreb had become independent of the ruling governors of the time, and the Maghrebian kingdom and principalities appeared.
The Idrissid dynasty established an Islamic state and Idriss II founded the city of Fez in 808. The University of al-Karaouine, thought by many to be the oldest university in the world, was established in 857.
Thus, Morocco is an African, Berbern, Andalusian, Arab and Mediterranean country, a land where every one’s roots are elsewhere, where differences are welcomed and celebrated. The succession of dynasties, dating from the Idrissids to today have created political stability based on a traditional monarchy.
This continuity has strengthened since independence was established in 1956. Since then, Morocco has marched resolutely towards democracy, with the ruling monarch, King Mohamed VI, recently introducing reforms that could lead to a constitutional monarchy.
The Moroccan economy remains strongly marked by the agricultural activity both in terms of production and marketing. Major exported products are fresh Citrus fruits – especially oranges – with other products including tomatoes, potatoes, and canned fruits and vegetables.
Morocco boasts two sea coastlines; the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, extending over 3,500km. Moroccan coasts contain a vast wealth of marine resources. The creation of a 200 nautical mile-long Exclusive Economic Zone (ZEE) has increased the maritime area under national jurisdiction to beyond one million kilometers.
Being one of the first countries in the world to have a varied lithic industry, Morocco – thanks to its ancient traditions and the diversity of its population and culture – succeeded in preserving this wealth and developing its carpets, traditional suits, jewels, pottery, ceramics, engraved wood, chiseled zellij and carved plaster. The handicraft sector occupies a distinguished position in the Moroccan economy and employs a substantial number of Moroccans.
Mining has been one of Morocco’s most practiced economic activities. Since the beginning of the 20th century, major manganese, iron, zinc, lead and phosphate fields were discovered. Morocco contains three-quarters of the world’s phosphates reserves. It is the world’s first exporter and third producer.
Being endowed with important natural assets, as well as a rich and varied cultural heritage, Morocco has opted for the promotion of the tourist sector, putting in place a voluntarist strategy of tourism development which is likely to trigger a sustainable and integrated development dynamics.
Statistics from the Ministry of Industry confirm the predominance of chemicals and para-chemicals, agro-industry, textiles and clothing. The remainder is shared among the metallurgical, mechanical, electric and electronic industries.
During the past decade, the Moroccan banking system has seen an outstanding process of reform, with astute management fostering growth and development, rising assets, deposits and loans. There has also been a steady and remarkably high inflow of receipts, with institutions working to channel them into new products and investments. Authorities received a series of broadly positive reports by key analytical bodies, including Standard and Poor’s and the IMF.
Morocco offers sportspeople ideal playing conditions in terms of weather. Its temperature remains well within comfortable limits during the months of January to March, ranging from a low average of 13° C in January to a high average of 15° C in March, with a maximum of 19° C, which is perfect for practicing football. Humidity is not a factor that will affect play in Morocco. The air is dry and comfortable throughout the summer.
The genesis of Moroccan football
The first Moroccan clubs (Union Sportive Marocaine, Stade Marocain and Sporting Club of Roches Noires) were created as early as 1913, and the first competitions took place in 1916.
Union Sportive Marocaine (USM), the oldest club, emerged as a genuine standard bearer for Moroccan football, seizing 13 national championships between 1922 and ‘42. Those kind of international confrontations inspired domestic footballers to emulate and ultimately put their own stamp on the technical and tactical brilliance of the Austrian ‘Wunderteam’. Among those local footballers, one emerged whose skill at keeping the ball at his foot remains legendary: Larbi Ben Barek.
The Perle Noire era
Ben Barek, known as the ‘Perle Noire’ (Black Pearl), catapulted on to the international scene in a memorable match between Morocco and France on 12 April 1937. The north Africans won 4-2 and Ben Barek went on to become the first Moroccan to play beyond his country’s borders when he joined Marseille in 1939 and swiftly became a France international. Following World War II, Ben Barek returned to Europe and his adoring fans, playing for Stade Francais, Atletico Madrid and Marseille once again. He helped OM win numerous titles and ended his international carrier at the age of 40 by outshining the German world champions in Hanover in 1954. Thanks to Ben Barek and other football masters such as Abderrahmane Mahjoubn, who was nicknamed the ‘Prince of the Park’, and Just Fontaine, Moroccan football improved steadily. Fontaine went on to score 13 goals in six matches for France at Sweden 1958 – a record at one edition of a FIFA World Cup which still stands today.
In Chile 1962 qualifying, Morocco defeated Tunisia and Ghana to move into an intercontinental play-off with Spain for a place at the FIFA World Cup. The Africans lost 1-0 at home and 3-2 away to the team that would win UEFA EURO 1964, but they nevertheless gained a reputation as ‘the Land of football’. The skillful and self-assured Moroccan team, standing against one of the world’s strongest squads, helped to awaken the tremendous potential of African football.
Finally, in 1970, Morocco managed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. Though drawing once and losing twice, the Atlas Lions earned tremendous respect after leading for 70 minutes against a West German team including Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, before finally losing 2-1.
In 1976, Morocco finally capped its rise to international football prominence. Facing African powers Nigeria, Egypt, Zaire, Sudan and Guinea, Morocco won the CAF African Cup of Nations, led by their phenomenal marksman and 1975 African Footballer of the Year, Ahmed Faras.
Morocco renewed themselves in the late 1970s to meet the challenges of increasing professionalism in football, and, in 1986, impressed at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico. By winning their group, which included England, Poland and Portugal, Morocco became the first African country to qualify for the second round.
Only a great free-kick from Lothar Matthaus in the 87th minute spoiled Morocco’s bid to upset Germany in the first knockout round. Once again, Morocco had forged the way for the great African teams that would follow, among them Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana.
Thereafter, Morocco participated in USA 1994 and France 1998.
At that latter tournament, another Moroccan achieved a notable ‘football first’. Indeed Said Belqola became the first African to referee a FIFA World Cup Final, turning in a fine performance as France beat Brazil 3-0.
In 2004, Morocco overcame Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Mali en route to the continental final, only to lose out 2-1 to Tunisia. The following year, at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Morocco eliminated Italy in the quarter-finals before losing to Nigeria in the last four.