For first time, four Arab countries qualify for FIFA World Cup finals
Alfredo Estrella (AFP/File)
For the first time, the Arab world will have four countries appearing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after winning qualifying matches on Saturday in Africa.
Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia will try their luck at sweeping the much-lauded golden trophy from Germany, the incumbent champions, in what has been hailed by Egyptian footballer playing for Liverpool FC, Mohamed Salah as an ‘Arab-flavored world cup.’
Morocco won an impressive 2-0 victory away to the Ivory Coast, with top players Nabil Dirar and Medhi Benatia scoring twice within only five minutes of the match’s opening half. The “Atlas Lions”, to which the team is fondly referred to as by its fan base, are returning to the tournament for the first time since 1998.
Herve Renard, Moroccan coach revealed that King Mohammed VI had called to congratulate the team’s remarkable effort in securing a place at the world-class sporting event.
“I thank His Majesty for calling me. It’s a huge honor,” said Renard. “He wanted to talk to us to pay tribute to everyone. Tonight we are proud of the Moroccan shirt, proud that the Moroccan flag returns to the World Cup. This is the fifth qualification so Morocco is not a small [football] country.”
The Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the world's third tallest hotel, also lit up to congratulate the Arabian success.
Mustapha Hadji, who played during Morocco’s last appearance at the World Cup in France 1998, is now one of Renard’s assistant coaches. Speaking of the importance of qualifying, he told The Guardian that “after Islam, football is our second religion,” adding that “it can make you cry in one second and make you feel in love the next. Politics cannot do that.”
The Tunisian qualifier ending with a 0-0 draw, but it was enough to guarantee them a place in the finals for the first time in a decade.
Egypt had previously qualified in the Africa group play-offs whilst Saudi Arabia had gained victory in the Asian group matches. In addition, Iran, who qualified as representatives of the Asian Football Confederation will also be playing in the 2018 competition.
The Middle Eastern countries will join 28 others in the World Cup draw that will take place on December 1st at Moscow’s Kremlin Palace. As political tensions escalate within the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia, there is a chance that the ensuing ‘Cold War’ will thaw if the powerhouses face each other on the pitch.
You need to be logged in in order to post comments. Sign up or log in