Despite leading until two minutes from time on this Saturday 2nd July in Utrecht, Morocco saw the FIFA World Youth Championship bronze medal slip through their fingers. Unspectacular but highly businesslike, the Seleçao thus depart with something to show for their troubles. As for the Moroccans, their considerable cause for optimism will no doubt be tinged with a few regrets.
After a message read to the crowd by the Moroccan captain following the unruly crowd scenes in the semi-final, the game got underway beneath a steady drizzle. With both sides favouring a short, free-flowing passing game, the conditions hardly suited. However, most of the early running was made by the Moroccans, no doubt keen to make amends after the ignominiously stormy end to their semi-final.
As in their earlier games at this tournament, it was Nabil El Zhar and Tarik Bendamou who looked the most dangerous, without actually making the breakthrough. It was then the turn of Adil Chihi, a replacement for the suspended Mouhssine Iajour, to escape down the left, but his final ball failed to find a team-mate (10'). The Brazilians, meanwhile, were looking surprisingly ragged moving forward.
The liveliness of the Atlas Lions' attack continued to cause the Auriverde rearguard some discomfort, and just before the half-hour mark, Bendamou came within inches of scoring with a shot from 9 metres that flew over the bar. On the bench, his coach, Jamal Fathi, was furious at the profligacy of his charges.
Towards the end of the first period, the Seleçao showed signs of waking up a bit. Fed in the penalty area by Evandro, Rafael Sobis aimed a shot at Mohammed Bourkadi's goal. In the ensuing melee, Arouca unleashed a strike that very nearly beat the keeper from the MAS Fes club.
Morocco move ahead
At last, the Brazilians were putting together some flowing moves, but just as they were beginning to dominate the proceedings, the Auriverdes fell a goal behind in added time. On a counter-attack, an Adil Hermach shot from 16 metres took a wicked deflection off Edcarlos to deceive Brazil's keeper Renan (0:1, 47+).
"We were poor in the first period. At half-time, I had to be tough with my players, because even though it's first place that really counts for Brazil, it was important for us to fight for this bronze medal," revealed René Weber after the game.
Cut to the quick, the Brazilians endeavoured to hit back immediately after emerging from the changing rooms. Diego Tardelli struck a powerful shot from 20 metres, but Bourkadi was equal to the effort (49').
With just over an hour on the clock, Edcarlos must have thought his fine header had levelled the tie, only for the impressive Bourkadi to make a marvellous parry. Uncharacteristically clumsy in attack, René Weber's protégés were still managing to carve out clear-cut chances, not least Tardelli's half-volley which shaved a relieved Bourkadi's post (73'). Shortly after, Arouca's clever reverse pass was collected by the waspish Tardelli, but his pile driver flew well over.
With 10 minutes remaining, the pace was really hotting up. El-Zhar went on a solo run into the Auriverde area, but his finish was wayward. It looked as if it would be the Moroccans that would join Argentina and Nigeria on the podium, until, that was, the dismissal of Yassine Zouchou and the subsequent free kick. When Rafael sent in the cross, Bourkadi failed to claim, allowing Santos to rise and head home the equaliser (1:1, 88').
If that was a sickener for the North Africans, what happened next was even harder to stomach…. With the referee checking his watch, Rafael again picked out a yellow jersey in the box, this time that of the author of the earlier own goal, Edcarlos, who promptly erased any bad memories by heading the winner (2:1, 91+). It meant that the bronze consolation medal ended up in Brazil's pocket, but the Moroccans could still reflect on a remarkable tournament and a best-ever fourth-place finish. "We put in an intelligent performance, but after the sending off, everything fell apart. Nevertheless, I am very proud to see Morocco come fourth out of 205 associations," Jamal Fathi concluded.