The mood in the Moroccan camp was still sombre the day after the 0-3 defeat against Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. In the team hotel, the players sat in silence at the breakfast table, contemplating what could have been if they had defeated their African rivals. A cloud still hung over the team bus during the two-hour journey to Utrecht where the North Africans will meet Brazil on Saturday in the third-place play-off. Morocco's coach Jamal Fathi will now have to employ all his psychological expertise to gee up his troops before the encounter with the Seleçao.
Fathi told FIFA.com: "Naturally we are disappointed. We have already shown in this tournament that we can play better football than we did against Nigeria. We have made huge progress and I thought the first half was very even. When we let in the second goal, however, our heads went down."
The coach had no doubts as to the reason for the defeat: "It was in our hands but my players were simply not able to handle the pressure. The Moroccan people were very excited about our progress, people were out in the streets and our telephone never stopped ringing. The media also exerted an enormous amount of pressure. You have to remember that my players are still very young." Fathi then went on to make a comparison with the Dutch team: "They also experienced problems in dealing with the pressure from outside."
However, despite the bitter disappointment at failing to reach the final, his team will be determined to put on a good show in the third place play-off against Brazil this Saturday in Utrecht. "I will do my best to build up morale for the game against Brazil. We have to forget this defeat," added Fathi.
Given the fact that Morocco took Nigeria to penalties in the African Youth Championship in Benin back in January, such a heavy defeat might have come as a real shock. But not to Fathi: "In Benin, there were no crowds, no pressure and my players were a lot more relaxed."
Praise for Nigerians
Fathi then went on to praise Morocco's opponents: "We lost to an outstanding Nigerian team. All their players are professionals who play in the first division, whereas our players are amateurs - true youth players. Despite the defeat, my players have shown what they are capable of. In future, we will do our best to go all the way to the final."
The coach was quick to defend his star striker Mousshine Iajour who was unable to impose himself in the game against Nigeria and was subsequently given a red card: "He is a fantastic player. The fact they he didn't score against Nigeria doesn't change that. Our main problems lay in the midfield due to the fact that we had to make a few changes as a result of suspensions. I don't think that I could have done anything different with the line-up."
Moroccan defender Salah Sbai, who is once again available for selection for the third place play-off after serving a suspension, is in combative mood ahead of the encounter with the deposed title holders despite the disappointment of the semi-final defeat: "You don't get the opportunity to play against Brazil every day and we will do all we can to win this game."