Moroccans grateful for UAE education
© AFP

Fielding questions after his side’s 2-1 loss to Côte d’Ivoire in the Round of 16 of the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE on Tuesday, Morocco captain Nabil Jaadi ended each of his answers with the same observation: “That’s football, isn’t it?”. Speaking with an air of resignation, the Atlas Lion Cub was at a loss for any other explanation for his side’s defeat, which brought their maiden appearance in the competition to an abrupt end.

Having gone into the tie on the back of a fine showing in the group phase, where they recorded impressive wins over Croatia and Panama and drew with a tough Uzbekistan side, the North Africans were below their best against the Ivorians.

Acknowledging that fact, Jaadi told FIFA.com: “It was a midfield battle and we didn’t play well in the opening half hour. They scored really early and that caught us cold. We had to change all the plans we’d made, and I thought it was a very harsh decision too.”

I still can’t believe it. It hurts a lot, though I know that we’ll soon be able to appreciate everything that we’ve learned here.
Morocco captain Jaadi

Reflecting on Morocco’s tournament as a whole, he said: “Taking part in a group phase is always interesting because you can draw or lose and still qualify for the next round. We faced Panama, Uzbekistan and Croatia in the first round. They’re all teams who have very different approaches and they pushed us hard and forced to play intelligent football.

“It wasn’t easy at all against Côte d’Ivoire, it’s the second time we’ve lost to them and we weren’t able to turn the game around. We’re ready for tougher games in the future now, though, and for a higher level of competition.”

Pacy and comfortable on the ball, the 5’9 Anderlecht striker found it hard to come to terms with his side’s sudden elimination. “Losing in the second round is very tough,” he said. “I still can’t believe it. It hurts a lot, though I know that we’ll soon be able to appreciate everything that we’ve learned here, which will help us to be better players and people in the future.”

The future starts today
“We’re not used to matches like this, with a big crowd in the stadium and knowing that the game’s being televised live everywhere,” continued Jaadi, contemplating what it has meant to the Moroccans to play in a major international competition. “This tournament has helped us to handle that pressure and learn to play in situations like this," he went on. "We’ve felt right at home here in Fujairah and we’ve had some amazing support from our people.”

UAE 2013 is over for Morocco, however, and though the skipper has not even packed his bags for the journey home, he's already turning his thoughts to what lies ahead: “This has shown us that we’re strong and competitive. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we’ve had some great performances and we’ve got stronger as a group. We’re already thinking about the next step, which is to play in another World Cup, this time with the U-20s.”

As well looking ahead to the national team’s future, Jaadi is also contemplating his own. “I’m developing little by little and I’m always trying to learn,” he explained. “That’s why coming here has helped me a lot, because now I have to go back to my club and use all that experience for the benefit of the team.

"I have a lot of dreams to fulfill. I want to play lots of games in the first division, score goals and win trophies," he concluded. "But I know that it doesn’t happen just like that. You have to work at it and make sacrifices. But then again, that’s football isn’t it?”