The 2022 set of the Atlas Lions of Morocco seem to be on an unassuming path to greatness at this World Cup tournament but the question in the minds and mouths of modest Africans is: “Are the Atlas Lions for real”?
As the group stage schedule of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 reaches a conclusion on Friday evening, it is imperative to reflect on one of the spectacular stories of a truly strange competition we have in our hands.
Not only have the Atlas Lions wowed everyone by their results, but the manner with which those were achieved earned more admirers and won over many skeptics onto the side of Walid Regragui’s calculative Lions.
It was difficult for any pundit to give Morocco a chance to progress from a group that had two of the four semi-finalists at the last World Cup, but the Atlas Lions have done that in an amazing way, finishing top of Group F.
This is the first time Morocco will progress from their group at the FIFA World Cup since 1986. For proper context, none of the current set of Atlas Lions in Qatar was born then; ensuring the creation of a new vista by a whole new generational mixture of footballing talents born in Morocco and the diaspora.
The interesting thing though is the similarity between 1986 and 2022. While we continue to drool over Morocco’s lordship over a group that had Belgium and Croatia in Qatar, the 1986 set of Atlas Lions also topped a group that had England and Portugal while most striking is the fact that they kept clean sheets in their opening two games in both competitions.
One major piece of dejavu that was averted for the Atlas Lions was the elimination of Germany in dramatic fashion at the Al Bayt Stadium on Thursday night. If the Germans had progressed, they would have faced Morocco in the next round, just like in 1986 when West Germany ousted the Atlas Lions.
Now, Morocco will have to face Spain in an equally difficult second round contest at the Education City Stadium on Tuesday, with the lofty hopes of adding more dimensions to a tournament already filled with plenty drama and narratives.
Already, Spain are seemingly pleased with the avoidance of a meeting with Croatia in the second round and also a route to face Brazil in the quarter finals but the onus is now on the Atlas Lions to prove how real they are to the footballing world in their quest for global fame.
The Spaniards seem to be viewing the Moroccans like a man standing atop the Strait of Gibraltar, looking down to Jebel Moussa in Morocco but the Romain Saiss-captained Lions have shown enough promise over their last three games to be believed upon.
With a couple of the ‘Class of 22’ born in Spain, Tuesday brings an opportunity for them to take a step further into all-time greatness if they can reach the quarter finals for the first time in the country’s history and at the expense of their prideful neighbours.
Fisayo Dairo wrote from Al Wakrah in Qatar