Morocco have made history at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. And while their defeat to France has left the Moroccans out of contention for the title, they will still have to fight for third place against Croatia on Saturday. There are many reasons for this unprecedented success in African football, but there is one that tends to go unnoticed and has proved key in the development of Moroccan players, namely the Mohammed VI Football Academy.
Among the various efforts being promoted by the monarch of the Alawi kingdom, the founding of the academy 12 years ago is one of the most important. And his good work can be seen in competitions of the highest prestige, such as the World Cup. Some key players such as Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri, the French Angers player, Azzedine Ounahi - one of the sensations of the tournament and with big European teams following his lead - or Nayef Aguerd of West Ham in England, are players trained in this academy and who are leading the team of the Lions of the Atlas.
The success of Moroccan football at international level is no coincidence. Rabat has been working for years to raise the level of its sport and, in particular, of football. This work has also been recognised by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which attributes much of the success to "the interest of the Moroccan Football League in the senior men's and women's teams". It also praises the work the Kingdom is doing "in the short, medium and long term to prepare for the future", pointing specifically to the Mohammed VI Academy.
FIFA itself wanted to highlight the complex of the academy, which has first-class facilities and is key to the success of all categories of the Moroccan national football team. The Mohammed VI Complex, inaugurated in 2019 and covering 29 hectares, involved an investment of 630 million dirhams - just over 56 million euros -. The facilities, which meet FIFA standards, include residences for the senior national team, as well as the U-23 and U-17 teams, four natural grass football pitches, three artificial turf pitches and one futsal pitch, among others.
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In 2017, Mohammed VI outlined the Kingdom's strategy for the development of national sport. His message at the debate that took place in Skhirat organised by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation with the Confederation of African Football, made clear what the way forward was and that it could only be done by "improving the quality of training, developing infrastructures, providing requirements to enter the professional world and strengthening the marketing mechanisms of African football".
The idea that began more than a decade ago with the inauguration of the Mohamed VI Academy has become a reality, as one of the hottest men in world football, Walid Regragui, Morocco's national coach, also said. After his experience as a player with the Atlas Lions, he believes that Morocco had to "create its own style by finding a strength that was part of the country". He also says that now, "they show the world that Morocco is developing and moving forward" in terms of football. And there was no better stage to do so than in the most prestigious competition in world football.