Morocco have never collected a point at the FIFA Futsal World Cup
They face Solomon Islands, Thailand and Portugal in Group C
Coach Hicham Dguig outlines his three objectives for the tournament
Morocco have enjoyed some memorable successes in recent years. They triumphed at the last two Africa Futsal Cup of Nations, in 2016 and 2020, and have qualified for the FIFA Futsal World Cup™ for the third time in a row. “Hard work is the secret of our continental success,” coach Hicham Dguig told FIFA.com. “I put together a plan between 2015 and 2019 that helped us to win the Cup of Nations in 2016. "After that, I took over the training of coaches at the Moroccan Football Federation as a FIFA instructor and head of training in Africa, an activity that helps me to see things more clearly, be it in terms of management or in terms of tactical or physical aspects of the game.” “Currently the same style of play has been adopted throughout the country, with the same philosophy for attacking and defending. This great work has enabled us to win two Cup of Nations tournaments and an Arab Championship, a title we collected in Egypt in May.”
However, the Moroccans have been unable to build on their continental successes at the Futsal World Cup. Unfortunately, in the last two editions of the global tournament, at Thailand 2012 and Colombia 2016, the Atlas Lions have failed to advance past the group stage. “The first reason was the lack of competition,” said Dguig. “There’s not an African Champions League in futsal. The Africa Cup of Nations only takes place once every four years, and sometimes it gets cancelled or doesn’t get played. "In 2012, when we were getting ready for the Futsal World Cup in Thailand, there wasn’t a Cup of Nations scheduled that year. We went straight into the qualifiers and managed to secure a spot in Thailand.” Dguig did indeed manage to steer Morocco to the Futsal World Cup for the very first time, but the adventure would end in disappointment, with his charges bowing out in the first round. Without making excuses, the level-headed coach feels the need to point out that there were extenuating circumstances surrounding that tournament. “About a month before we left for Thailand, our team were involved in a serious car accident, and we lost two of our best players,” he recalled. “I also suffered an injury to my spinal cord. And all this happened just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup. "I didn’t know if I would ever walk again, a number of other players had been badly hurt, and we were on the verge of pulling out of the tournament. We didn’t have chance to prepare properly, and that’s why we didn’t do very well in 2012.” In comparison with 2012, the North Africans’ displays at Colombia 2016 were significantly better. In Dguig’s eyes, the improved performances can be partly attributed to the groundwork laid by another influential football figure. “In 2014, Fouzi Lekjaa became the new president of the Moroccan Football Federation,” he said. "You could say he’s the architect of all this because he really raised the profile of futsal, which was previously a minority sport in Africa. “We started to schedule monthly training sessions. We won the Cup of Nations in South Africa earlier that year, but we didn’t prepare well for the World Cup in Colombia. "Regrettably, we didn’t play any warm-up matches. Once we were at the tournament, we saw the excellent standard of teams like Azerbaijan, but we grew in stature during the event, which shows the importance of playing friendly matches beforehand really. “In the second game against Iran, which we lost 5-3, we put in a solid performance and we came pretty close to drawing and even winning, but we had a player sent off and that gave our opponents a clear advantage. We also did very well against Spain – Adil Habil scored one of the top three goals of the tournament in that one.”
The question persists, though: why is there this great contradiction between their victorious runs at continental level and their inability to get further than the group phase at the World Cup? “In my opinion, there’s actually no contradiction between our results at the Cup of Nations and the World Cup,” said Dguig. “It’s simply a different dimension. "We’re the best team on the continent. We have a strategy and certain hopes at that level. On top of that, the competition we face in Africa, with the exception of Egypt, Angola, Mozambique and Libya, is not all that tough. We are ahead of our opponents preparation-wise. At Lithuania 2021, Morocco will lock horns with Portugal, Thailand and Solomon Islands in Group C. “Portugal are the European champions," said Dguig. “They always reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, and Sporting Lisbon are the reigning European club champions. That’s why I view Portugal as the favourites for the tournament. “Thailand are a solid team. Futsal is extremely popular there, they run a lot of futsal competitions at club and national-team level. They have a professional league. Futsal is very developed in their country and their national team are one of the best in the world. They’re going to be our direct rivals for a spot in the knockout stages. "Solomon Islands have a very respectable team. They’ve actually had better performances than Morocco in this tournament. They’re regulars at this level and have picked up some points at previous World Cups. We’ll give them our full respect. “We have the same chance as the rest. Morocco are newcomers to the sport, and that’s why we were in Pot 4 for the draw. Our main aim is to show we can play at this level, to improve on what we did in 2012 and 2016, and to be a competitive team. "Our second objective is to earn our first-ever point at this tournament. We’ve played six matches in the competition and we’ve lost them all. And the third is to try to qualify for the next round. Those are our targets, in that order.” Whether those objectives are met or not, Dguig will still take great pride in taking charge of Morocco at the Futsal World Cup for the third successive time. “I think I’m the only coach who’ll be taking part in the World Cup for the third time in a row with the same national team,” he said. It’s a great honour for me personally and a huge achievement as a coach. "We got Morocco to the World Cup in 2012, and we won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2016. We then qualified for our second World Cup, before lifting the Cup of Nations again and getting to the World Cup for a third time. I’m so proud of the confidence that my federation and the Moroccan fans have placed in me."