In basketball, three years is a long time; a lot can change. For the Moroccan national team, it feels like a lifetime. The toast of the continent and a promise for greater things in 2017, the team may struggle to qualify for next year’s tournament.
How Morocco Stunned the Basketball World
Just three years ago, the team was the sensation of the FIBA Afrobasket. Morocco started strong, with a 3-0 clip against a stunned 11-time champs Angola, two-time winners the Central African Republic, and Angola. They continued their best tournament in three decades by knocking favorites Egypt out of the competition in the Quarterfinals.
Once the team made it to the semifinals, the title was up for grabs for anyone. Many experts predicted Morocco would make a serious run for their first African trophy since 1965.
It was not to be. The co-hosts Tunisia put a spanner in the works by beating Morocco 60-52 in Radès, in no doubt helped by the 12,000-strong crowd in their home country. The team would go on to lift the trophy for only the second time by beating Nigeria in the final.
Deflated and exhausted, Morocco fell 73-62 against Senegal. A disappointing result, but it capped a strong fourth-place finish and a thirst for more success.
Qualifying for 2021: Changing Faces, Difficult Group
The 2017 team is no more. Former head coach Said El Bouzidi is now with Association Sportive de Salé, while star players like Zakaria El Mashbahi and Abdelhakim Zouita have put the national team behind them.
The team also faces stiff competition in their qualifying group, facing Cape Verde, Uganda, and perennial rivals Egypt for a spot in Africa’s most prestigious competition.
It’s going to be tough. The qualifiers will take place on Egyptian home soil, in the coastal city of Alexandria. The competition will make it difficult for the team to qualify for next year’s tournament, let alone match or exceed their Cinderella run from three years ago.
Egypt is certainly looking for sporting redemption, with the pain of failing to qualify for last year’s World Cup still fresh in their memory. Haytham Khalifa, the team’s current captain, has said the team is ready to fight for qualification. With two consecutive wins against Morocco in recent matchups, there is a reason for his optimism.
But there are reasons for Morocco to have hopes to overturn recent disappointing results. The two contests against Egypt were close, both going down to the wire. With Egypt going through a turbulent rebuild, there are chances for both teams.
Abdelali Lahrichi, on the linchpins of the 2017 success (and considered to be one of the best from the last decade), is confident that the new team has plenty of quality. He cites the growth of recent seasons, the talent pool that has begun to flourish, and the togetherness of the squad.
Predicting the Qualifiers In the Covid Era
If there’s one thing Covid-19 has taught us, predictions are now more difficult than ever. And coronavirus is affecting teams in different ways. The Egyptian league, for example, only ended a month ago. For Morocco, it’s been far longer.
Will this negatively impact the Moroccan team? Guard Abdelali Larichi thinks so, and the evidence from other leagues seems to support his case. Just look at the topsy turvy results we’re seeing in European football, for example, that surprised us all.
What is certain, for those invested in the result, the upcoming qualifiers will be quite interesting to predict and bet on. However, unlike the NBA and FIBA Basketball, competitions across the MENA region are covered only by specific basketball betting sites listed on websites like arabianbetting.com, that fully cover the Basketball Africa League. There’s one thing that is certain: with all of the changes, there are going to be plenty of surprises.
Morocco is Ready for a Challenge
The team is certainly feeling ready to put in a challenge, with new head coach Naoufal Uariachi placing his trust on a combination of veterans and rising talents, including Soufiane Kourdou and the youngster Mohamed Choua.
It is this blend of players that Morocco is putting its chips on for 2021. While experts wonder whether they will be able to reach the tournament, the North African country is quietly hoping it can stun the critics once again.