The second African nation to appear at a FIFA World Cup ™ finals, after Egypt in 1934, Morocco have been one of the continent's football pioneers.
Morocco made their bow at the FIFA World Cup finals at Mexico 1970, and it was an historic moment for Africa. In their first game, against Bulgaria, the Atlas Lions, coached by Yugoslav Vidinic Blagoje, managed a 1-1 draw to give the continent its first ever point at a finals. Unfortunately they were unable to follow that up with further successes. Jarir Mohamed and Co were narrowly beaten 2-1 by a West German team featuring Franz Beckenbauer, who would later advance to the semi-finals. They then suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat at the hands of Peru.
In 1986, history repeated itself as Morocco qualified for the finals again and found themselves back on Mexican soil once more. And their second experience of the finals proved more successful than the first. Spurred on by Abdelaziz Bouderbala, Mohamed Timoumi and Abdelkarim Krimau, the north Africans demonstrated both skill and composure to qualify from a difficult group. Following 0-0 draws against England and Poland, they secured a 3-1 victory over Portugal to top their group and qualify for the second stage, a feat no other African team had managed previously. The Africans were eventually eliminated in the last 16 by future finalists West Germany, who scored the winner in the 89th minute.
After an absence of four years, the Atlas Lions qualified for back-to-back FIFA World Cup finals at USA 1994 and France 1998, enjoying contrasting fortunes at each. In the United States, they lost all three of their group games, going down 1-0 to Belgium, 2-1 to Saudi Arabia and 2-1 to Netherlands.
However, on French soil, where they enjoyed the support of a strong local Moroccan community, they fared considerably better. Under the guidance of French coach Henri Michel, the Moroccans kicked off their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Norway, which provided ample encouragement for their next match, against the mighty Brazil. Sadly, there were to be no miracles on this occasion, as Morocco suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat that left their future in the tournament under threat. Down but not out, Nourredine Naybet and his cohorts bounced back to defeat Scotland 3-0. That fine result that was not rewarded with a place in the next round, however, Norway pipping them to second spot in the group by beating Brazil, who had already gone through.
Since 1998, the North Africans have failed to make it back to the world's top tournament and have struggled to replicate the fine form they enjoyed in the 1990s. In 2005, they lost out to Tunisia in the race to qualify for Germany 2006, only one year after having succumbed to the same opponents in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004. The Moroccans do have one international title to their name at least, coming out on top at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia.
Hopes of a renaissance rose in August 2007 with the
reappointment of former coach Michel. The Frenchman, who has
masterminded three successful FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns
in all, could not work the oracle at Ghana 2008, however, and was
sacked after the Atlas Lions went out with a whimper in the group
The man who has been handed the task of restoring Moroccan self esteem and steering them to South Africa 2010 is his compatriot Roger Lemerre.