Morocco 1986: First to the last 16
In the last part of our Saga Africa series, we look back to Mexico in
1986 when Morocco became the first African team ever to reach the last
16 of a World Cup.
The scene was set for a surprise at the 1986 World Cup after Colombia pulled out for financial reasons and the Mexican hosts struggled ?heroically to stage the event just a year after a devastating earthquake had claimed 20,000 lives.?
Sixteen years after their first – and modest – World Cup, the Lions of the Atlas, under Brazilian coach José Faria, joined Algeria as North Africa’s sole representatives. There were high hopes for Algeria after their performance in 1982, but amid internal quarelling, Salah Assad’s squad was eliminated in the group stage. It was left to ?Morocco – led by Abdelmajid ?Dolmy, Mohammed El Haddaoui and Mohamed Timoumi – to make history by becoming the first African team to reach the last 16.
The lacklustre group based at Monterrey – a charmless industrial city in the north of the country – had had little going for it. The football had been soporific, with only nine goals scored in six matches. England were tired. Poland shut themselves away in a mountain retreat and Portugal were on the verge of a strike. Against that backdrop, Morocco provided enthusiasm and freshness, and everyone wanted them to do well.
Under the guardianship of technical genius Aziz Bouderbala and goalie-captain Badou Zaki, the ?Moroccans first secured goalless draws against Poland and England. At Guadalajara on a windy and rainy on 11 June 1986, they took on Portugal, who were confident they would qualify for the knock-out round, having beaten England.
In a shocker that secured Morocco’s place in World Cup history, Abderazzad Khairi soared to national hero status in a seven-minute display that produced two stunning goals. Later in the match, Krimau coolly scored a third goal to see Morocco through.
“We had a great team and a quality coach,” says Aziz Bouderbala, one of the heroes of the Mexico squad. “Having been seen as real outsiders by the media when we arrived in Mexico, we really caused an upset.”?
But the magic ran out against West Germany. A riveting match was decided three minutes from the end when Zaki – later to become ?Morocco’s national coach – dived in vain on a free kick from Lothar ?Matthäus. The dream was over but Morocco remained proud.