Morocco on Sunday became the second Arabic-speaking country to be eliminated from the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, but unlike their Maghreb neighbours Algeria, who lost both their opening AFCON matches, the Atlas Lions were knocked-out without having lost a game after three draws. Their coach Rachid Taoussi tells FIFA.com that it was - nevertheless - a positive campaign.
After drawing their two opening matches in South Africa, Morocco took on the hosts in Durban, knowing that only a victory or a high-scoring draw would be enough to see them through to the knock-out stages. They took the game to Bafana Bafana and twice led through goals by Issam El Adoua and Abdelilah Hafidi, only to see the hosts come back to snatch a late 2-2 draw. That would have been good enough though had the other Group A game in Port Elizabeth between Angola and Cape Verde, which was being played simultaneously, ended in a 1-1 draw.
However, fate dealt Morocco a cruel hand as Ramos Heldon scored the winner for Cape Verde in the last minute to send the Blue Sharks through and Morocco home. "We walk out with dignity and honour," said a tearful Taoussi after the game. "I am very happy with the team. They played well and they improved from match to match. All the games were very good and the balance sheet is very positive as a whole. I am very happy with our performance."
Taoussi, who previously coached the Moroccan U-17, 20 and 23 sides, only took over the senior team in September. "That did not give me a lot of time, but we have not lost a match since then. I now look forward to taking the team into the World Cup qualifiers against Gambia and Tanzania. I know the strategy I have taken is just the first phase focused on preparing for the World Cup qualification. If we get maximum points against Tanzania and Gambia, we have a chance to qualify. We will then go to Abidjan to defend our colours against Côte d’Ivoire, who are two points ahead. I think we can beat them and we have the capacity to qualify for Brazil 2014. Qualifying for the World Cup is our short-term goal, the long-term one is the 2015 AFCON finals in Morocco."
Looking ahead in hope
The 53-year-old said that he was confident that he would remain in charge of the side after the event. "I do not think that we have been eliminated here will be a problem. On the contrary, the competition in South Africa was good preparation. It will be positive. The head of the Moroccan Football Federation called me, and said he trusted me to continue with this team. I am a man for challenges. I have had a lot of success with a lot of national youth teams. I only took over the side a few months ago and have not had more than 20 days on the pitch with the players.
"But you can already see that the team has taken shape. The average age of the side is only 24, with our second scorer on Sunday just 20. I call on all Moroccan coaches to continue developing young players. Against South Africa we had most of the game, but because we were looking for more goals we had to open up and we ended up conceding goals."
Taoussi said that he did not think Algeria and Morocco's elimination from the competition was an indication that football in the Arab-speaking world was in decline. Between 2004 and 2010, Arab-speaking countries won four straight titles at the showpiece event of African football and Morocco was a losing finalist in 2004. "I do not want to speak about other teams, but you could see that our team played well. I respect all Maghreb teams and players and their coaches. I would have liked to see Algeria make it to the last eight, as this team is higher than Morocco in the FIFA ranking. After the Gabon setback in 2012 [Morocco were also knocked out in the first round of the AFCON after losing to Tunisia and Gabon] and all the bad memories of that campaign, a new Moroccan team has been born. It is on the brink of success, as we improved game after game, and we will be even better in the future.”