World Cup 2022: Morocco dreams of being a great football nation

Imagine something other than a victory? Unthinkable. After its draw against the Croatian world vice-champions (0-0) and especially its victory against Belgium semi-finalist of 2018 (2-0), Morocco obviously sees itself making short work of the “small” Canada, this Thursday 1er December, to win without firing a shot a qualification in the round of 16. And do even better than the elders who had jumped on the second round of the 1986 World Cup, but with only one success (against Portugal, 3-1) and two draws (0-0, against Poland then England).

Appetite comes with eating. “We want to exist like the great nations, to know how to pass this round”, summarizes Walid Regragui, the Moroccan coach. The native of Corbeil-Essonnes does not want to ignite, but he trusts his group enough to display “high goals”. And why not? “We know where we are goinghe let go after the bad trick inflicted on the Belgians. We have a very coherent team block, it’s difficult to move us, and everyone is working. Afterwards, with our quality players, we know that at any time we can do something big. »

A long-term policy

The journey of the Atlas Lions so far is no small reward, already, for a coach called to the rescue less than three months from the World Cup. By taking over from the Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, sacked for his bad relations with certain players, Walid Regragui was not starting from scratch. It was still necessary to pick up the pieces with the undesirables of yesterday, like the star winger of Chelsea Hakim Ziyech, and to resolder a group in emergency. A follower of diplomacy rather than the balance of power, the champion of Morocco and the African Champions League in 2022 (with the club Wydad Casablanca) obviously knew how to find the words.

A qualification would in any case validate for Morocco a long-term policy launched in 2014 by the new president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), Fouzi Lekjaâ. With the support of King Mohammed VI, tens of millions of euros have been invested in the construction of stadiums in major cities, but also hundreds of synthetic pitches in working-class neighborhoods. The organization of championships for the young categories and the reform of those of the elite have made it possible to structure competitions and clubs.

“Today, Morocco has become a locomotive for the development of football on the continentassures Yassine El Yattioui, doctoral student in political science at the University of Salamanca and specialist in Moroccan football. Its infrastructures also make it possible to accommodate numerous teams, particularly from sub-Saharan countries, for preparation courses. And Morocco is obviously a candidate for the organization of the 2025 African Cup of Nations, which has been withdrawn from Guinea. »

To be the first country in Africa

CAN 2025 to forget the failure (the fifth!) of Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup? Morocco did not relax its efforts after the awarding of the next World Cup to the Canada-United States-Mexico trio. To perpetuate its structures, the FRMF has just secured the services of Chris Van Puyvelde, who was national technical director of the Belgian Football Federation from 2015 to 2018.

Impressed in particular by the Mohammed-VI National Football Center inaugurated in 2019 (58 million euros of investment), the equivalent of the tricolor Clairefontaine in a more modern version, the Belgian technician set the bar very high on his arrival: “I know that Morocco wants to be the first country in Africa and I have seen now that it is possible. In Belgium, we dreamed of being first in the FIFA rankings with a country of 11 million inhabitants and we did it (from November 2018 to March 2022, editor’s note). Is there a reason not to make it here? »

The Atlas Lions only sharpen their teeth in Qatar. The objective is then to reach the last four of the CAN in January 2024. The means are there and will last. In October 2021, Fouzi Lekjaâ, already director of the budget at the Ministry of the Economy, entered the government as Minister Delegate for the Budget. A good place.


Women’s football also progresses

Morocco organized last July the fourteenth edition of the women’s CAN. The national team reached the final, narrowly failing against South Africa (1-2). But by finishing in the last four, the Lionesses above all qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a first for a North African team and for an Arab nation. The Moroccan thrust can also be seen at club level. On November 13, the Sports Association of the Royal Armed Forces (AS Far) offered the second edition of the African Women’s Champions League, largely dominating (4-0) the South Africans of Mamelodi Sundowns.



France, the world’s leading nation in rugby and a safe bet in other team sports

According to the ranking established by World Rugby, France becomes the first team in the world at the start of the week. Fabien Galthié’s men, undefeated this season with ten straight wins, will now overtake South Africa, previous world number one, beaten by Wales on the wire this weekend (13-12).

“For the first time in its history, the XV of France reached first place in the world rankings”, tweeted the president of the French Rugby Federation, Bernard Laporte, on Saturday.

If the world champion Springboks had won, they would have remained at the top of the world rankings. Their defeat, combined with the second victory of the Blues in Japan and a setback for the All Blacks against Ireland (23-12), allows the French to get ahead of them.

World champion footballers but… 4are FIFA ranking

Before the XV of France, only the men’s football team had managed, in 2001, to win the world’s first place in its discipline. Without being at the top of the table, the rest of the national team sports teams still have a good track record.

At the 2021 Olympics, France was ranked second in the team sports rankings, behind the United States, with six medals, including three gold. The men’s volleyball team had notably won its first Olympic title against Russia. Today the training led by Andrea Giani is ranked fourth in the world. His female counterpart, on the other hand, is in more trouble, clocking in at 24e global place.

As for the French basketball players, the men’s team, Olympic vice-champion last year, climbed to fourth place, far behind the untouchable Americans, also ahead of the Spaniards and the Australians. The girls, Olympic bronze medalists and reigning five-time European vice-champion, are sixth in a ranking again dominated by Americans and Spaniards.

In football, France may be the reigning world champion, but it only points to fourth place in the ranking established by the International Federation (FIFA), behind Brazil, Belgium and Argentina. The girls, who are currently competing in the Euro, are doing a little better. They are third, overtaken by the United States and Sweden.

In handball, the men’s and women’s teams both won a gold medal at the last Tokyo Olympics. The boys are third at European level, behind Germany and Spain. The girls do better: second, only ahead of the Hungarians.



Georgia, “small” rugby nation that is chomping at the bit

What is rare is expensive ? So this France-Georgia, Sunday November 14 in Bordeaux, the second meeting of this autumn tour, is worth its weight in gold. Before this meeting, the two rugby teams had only met on the meadow once. It was in September 2007, in Marseille, on the occasion of the World Cup at home of a XV of France who had packed his last group game by winning with nine tries (64-7).

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Suffice to say that the landmarks are not legion, and this is the great misfortune of these valiant Georgians. Guys who have built a great reputation for themselves, but in the European second division. “We have very few opportunities to face the best teams , deplores their coach, Levan Maisashvili. Once in the summer, once in the fall, and again not every year. We need to play big opponents more often to get used to the intensity of the matches. “

Rugby as a vector of national unity

This leitmotif has lasted since Georgia first appeared on the international scene at the turn of the century. France is not for nothing in this emergence. It is Claude Saurel, a former coach of Béziers who, in the mid-1990s, went to structure the high level in the country. Work rewarded by a first qualification for the 2003 World Cup. Since then, Georgia is of all editions.

The final momentum comes after the 2007 World Cup. “The Georgian government then decides to make a significant investment in rugby, to which very quickly comes the patronage of the richest man in the country, the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili” , says Yvonnick Le Lay, associate researcher at the Espaces et Societies laboratory at Rennes 2 University. The billionaire, a time prime minister (from 2012 to 2013), then president of the ruling Georgian Dream party, will not relax his efforts, with tens of millions of euros invested for the construction of numerous infrastructures through its Cartu foundation.

“Today, the government and the Georgian Rugby Federation (GRU), whose president is close to Bidzina Ivanishvili, are piloting a new plan to build around 100 stadiums across the country , continues Yvonnick Le Lay. This commitment is not neutral. Georgian rugby is known to be tough and combative, and the government maintains that identity. He also counts on rugby as a federator of the nation, in a country where the Azeri and Armenian communities – 20% of the population – do not yet communicate around this sport. Hence this development plan which must cover the entire territory. “

At the doorstep of the Six Nations Tournament

Communion internally, visibility externally. “There is also a desire to acquire a certain international recognition through rugby” , adds the researcher. Hence the interest in inflating your muscles. Except that Georgia may knock on the door of the rugby elite, nothing works for the moment. Even if the question regularly arises of the replacement of Italy by Georgia in the Six Nations Tournament. It would not be illegitimate. Georgia has won nine of the last ten editions of the European international championship, the Continental B Tournament. And in the World Rugby ranking, it points to 12e place, ahead of Italy ranked 14e.

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“But the leaders of the Six Nations Tournament remain deaf to these arguments for economic and commercial reasons, emphasizes Yvonnick Le Lay. The Georgian market is currently much less attractive than the Italian market. “ The Georgians are therefore reduced to picking up the crumbs, having been able to face major nations only less than 20 times in the last twenty years, excluding the world cups.

To advance its troops, Georgia is therefore relying on a new strategy. In addition to the fact that many players are getting tougher in the French championships, the GRU has just created a new team, Black Lion, which is playing this year in a new competition, the Super Cup, against small nations (Russia, Belgium, Portugal, etc.). But the ambition is to soon join the United Rugby Championship where the top clubs of Britain (except the English), Italy and South Africa compete. Georgia is pushing hard. History of making a little place in the sun.


The importance of the French industry

Launched in the 1990s, the Franco-Georgian partnership continues today largely through clubs which often draw on the Georgian pool. Eighteen of the 33 players of the “Lelos” workforce on this tour play in France, fourteen in Top 14 and four in Pro D2. In the elite, it is the Brive club which is the most concerned (five players). But like the Corrèze club, others are developing direct channels to recruit in Georgia, such as Montpellier un temps or Clermont. Dozens of players also play at the lower level, in Federal 1 and 2.