Amid speculation that they coveted Cameroon’s right to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco offered support to their Central African counterparts.
“We are at your side today to put at your disposal all our devices, assets to make AFCON 2019, the first with 24 teams, an African football festival on the soil of our dear brother country and friend,” said Fouzi Lekjaa, President of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, in March 2018.
That warm and timely arm-around-the-shoulder might have quashed the rumors — or at least muted them — but it didn’t wish away Cameroon’s bigger, deeper worries.
Before the year was out, holders Cameroon stood empty-handed and teary-eyed, stripped of the privilege following a meeting of CAF’s Executive Committee in Accra (yea, same city where it was decided last year that Kenya would no longer get to stage the 2018 CHAN) – and their Moroccan ‘friend’ didn’t even send a handkerchief.
Cameroon would have reason to feel hard done by, of course, after an unforeseen mushrooming of the AFCON into a much bigger tournament that left an already embattled Local Organising Committee even more handicapped.
CAF was already looking to swing the ax, and a worrying security crisis that’s quickly escalated made the decision to execute easier to arrive at.
CAF has invited new bids, and there’d be no shortage. South Africa are readying one – heck, even Ghana is reportedly dreaming of another — but the leading candidate, if media reports are to be believed, is Morocco.
Unsurprisingly, the North Africans have jumped right to the front of the queue, even before officially announcing their intentions.
The earlier public expression of confidence in Cameroon regardless, Morocco — and their interest — never really went away.
They only waited in the wings and bided their time, and now they can swoop and strike. Morocco’s objectives for seeking the next AFCON may be a tad selfish but, from the country’s perspective, they are worth pursuing.
First, AFCON 2019 would represent another feather in Morocco’s cap. Moroccan football has been on a roll in recent years and the country would be eager to keep the cruise afloat a little longer.
Its footballing capital, Casablanca, produced last year’s winner of the CAF Champions League, Wydad Athletic; this year — only last Sunday, in fact — another, Raja, were crowned kings of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Between those triumphs, Morocco’s national team — the version drawn solely from local clubs — won the CHAN, further affirming the credentials of its domestic football.
That competition, also rescued by Morocco following the aforementioned deletion of Kenya, was conquered at the beginning of 2018.
By mid-year, the main Atlas Lions had also drawn applause, this time from a bigger audience. Herve Renard’s team failed to make it from an incredibly tough FIFA World Cup group, but of the five African teams eliminated at the end of the Mundial’s first round, Morocco gave arguably the best account, playing a brand of football which had connoisseurs mark them from an admittedly long way off as early favorites for glory at next year’s AFCON.
Morocco have since secured qualification to the event, improved their international ranking to 3rd in Africa, and seem primed for a first title in 43 years.
Having the AFCON moved to their territory — aside the encouraging fact that the man at the helm, Renard, has won it twice already – would hand Morocco an extra advantage.
It really doesn’t matter that no host of the AFCON has proved victorious since neighbours Egypt in 2006; Morocco, with their fresh success as a reference point, do have what it takes to buck the trend.
And then there is the politics.
See, Morocco themselves have had to forfeit AFCON hosting rights in the not-too-distant past. The 2015 edition was their turn, but an Ebola scare moved the country to seek a postponement of the tournament.
CAF declined, though, and forced Morocco to give up the permit. That messy episode saw Morocco eventually fined a mere $50,000, but the long-term repercussions have been far more costly.
Morocco became something of a pariah in the African football community, and that was partly a reason why its bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup failed to garner enough support from continental peers.
Morocco has been on a mission to repair that battered image, even though taking on the last CHAN at short notice seemed to convince few ahead of the showdown with the ultimately victorious allied North American challenge in June 2018.
Morocco hasn’t given up on their global ambitions, though, even after five failed attempts, and the kingdom would be keen to store up some more goodwill ahead of a future shot: cue AFCON 2019.
Clearly, this is a win-win situation for Morocco, and granted the opportunity — despite South Africa claiming it’s been approached by CAF to come to the tournament’s rescue and Cameroon still reeling from their loss — they’d jump at it in a trice.