November 13 – It may not impact directly on its bid to stage the 2026 World Cup but Morocco struck a psychological blow against the United States-led rival bid when it qualified at the weekend for next year’s tournament in Russia.
While the USA can only look on with envy next summer having dismally failed to qualify from the simplest of qualifying regions, Morocco’s 2-0 away win over powerful Ivory Coast booked a return to the finals for the first time in 20 years.
Morocco needed only a draw from their final Group C game to finish top of their group but went one better, a bitter blow for the Ivorians, who had to win to clinch a fourth successive World Cup finals appearance.
But Morocco’s victory was tarnished by ugly scenes in Belgium where at least 20 police officers were injured after violence broke out involving Moroccan fans celebrating their team’s achievement.
Cars were burned and shops looted during the disturbances in the centre of Brussels which has a vast Moroccan population.
The violence was condemned by Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon who said: “Unacceptable aggression in the centre of Brussels. Living together means respect, also for the police who are committed to our safety day and night.”
Meanwhile in Morocco itself thousands of fans celebrated in the streets of Marrakesh, Casablanca and other cities.
Tunisia also booked their place in the finals after securing a point from a goalless draw at home against neighbours Libya and Senegal also sealed a berth with a 2-0 win over South Africa, returning to the finals after a 16-year absence.
Senegal can consider themselves somewhat fortunate to have got through since the game was a replay of last November’s original fixture won 2-1 by South Africa. FIFA ordered a rematch because of “match manipulation” by the referee, a ruling that infuriated not only the South Africans but also Burkino Faso, who claimed FIFA’s ruling adversely affected them too.
Burkino Faso have taken their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but it would appear unlikely CAS will rule in their favour now that all the African slots for Russia have been filled.
Senegal and South Africa meet again in Dakar on Tuesday in a game that is now of academic interest. Nigeria and Egypt, both already qualified, make up the African contingent.
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