CASABLANCA, Morocco: Morocco were near-flawless hosts of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN), which ended at the weekend, confirming they are creditable candidates to stage the 2026 World Cup.
FIFA member nations will this June select the kingdom or a Canada/Mexico/United States alliance to host the global football showpiece after Russia this year and Qatar in 2022.The 2026 World Cup will be the first featuring 48 countries — up from the current 32 — and any serious slip-ups by Morocco in the 16-nation CHAN would have sent damaging signals.
However, apart from the decades-old African problem of luring crowds to fixtures not involving the host nation, Morocco emerged with flying colours.Morocco could argue that the crowd-pulling appeal of home-based Africans, however talented, cannot be compared with world superstars like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo.
“The organisation of this tournament has been exceptional,” Germany-born Rwanda coach Antoine Hey told AFP.
“Morocco has provided infrastructure that meets the highest international standards. I am extremely impressed.”Morocco national football federation head Fouzi Lekjaa, who is also a Confederation of African Football (CAF) vice-president, says his country has a compelling case.
“Since the first World Cup in 1930, Africa has organised the tournament only once,” he said, referring to the 2010 finals in South Africa. Pre-CHAN tournament favourites Morocco whipped 10-man Nigeria 4-0 to win the competition, which has full international status despite being restricted to home-based footballers.
Their six matches attracted near-capacity crowds to the 65,000-capacity Stade Mohammed V in commercial capital Casablanca.However, apart from the group game between Nigeria and Libya in northern city Tangiers, matches not involving the host nation drew paltry crowds.
Central city Marrakech and Agadir in the south on the Atlantic coast were the other venues used during the 23-day tournament.Cold northern hemisphere winter weather was one deterrent to Moroccans with many who did attend wearing clothing more familiar with Europe than Africa.
An encouraging sign, though, was the number of families who came to watch some of the best domestic football talent in Africa.Weather will not be an issue should Morocco be awarded the 2026 World Cup as the tournament is traditionally staged during June and July — hot months in the kingdom.
Morocco have not officially named their proposed World Cup venues, but the four CHAN stadiums are sure to be in the list.At least one venue in capital city Rabat would certainly be included too.