The brutal beauty of Morocco’s Soccer Ultras

June 15, 2020


The Raja Ultras, led by the Capo (in lime green jacket standing on the railing between levels) fill the stadium with drum lines, chants, and songs.
“Zakaria Belqadi stands on a railing before a hoard of fans in the cheapest section of Le Grand Stade de Marrakech. He raises his arms, and the stadium begins to throb with the voices of young men. The song they sing has become well-known across the Arab world, and its lyrics have almost nothing to do with soccer: ‘In my country they abuse me … Only [Allah] knows, in this country we live in a dark cloud.’ These are fans of Raja Casablanca, one of Africa’s most successful soccer teams. Raja has won 11 Botola (Moroccan domestic league) championships and seven various Confederation of African Football (CAF) titles, among other honors. For many young men in Casablanca’s poorer neighborhoods, Raja has become a way of life, and the team’s ‘ultras’ fan clubs have even become organized, politically active and occasionally violent. …”
Africas a is Country
W – Raja Casablanca
YouTube: Raja Casablanca Ultras – Best Moments (Aug 26, 2016)


World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia

July 17, 2018


“After 64 games and more drama than any World Cup in at least 20 years, there’s one piece of business left to do: Pick a team of the tournament. It’s been picked as a team that might function together rather than just the 11 best players, and to avoid the temptation of packing it with France’s champions, a limit of four players per country has been self-imposed. In a 4-3-3 formation fit for the world stage, here is our 2018 World Cup Best XI.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


For all the ills of the world, World Cup 2018 showed that a bit of football done right can make the planet smile

July 17, 2018

“Monday morning dawns with a grim and crushing inevitability. Unless you’re peeling yourself off a Paris pavement, or drowning your sorrows in a Dubrovnik dive bar, the 2018 World Cup is over. As a month of sporting hedonism slips from present tense to past, real life and its hard borders re-sharpen their focus, bringing with them a cruel reckoning. It was only football, after all. It felt like more than that when Kylian Mbappe was burning through opposition defenders, or Lionel Messi was fighting back the tide, or Russia and South Korea were pulling off the unfeasible, or when England’s town squares throbbed with rasping songs and nervous tension and the prickly spines of a faint dream. But no: ultimately, it was only football, no more and no less.” Independent


World Cup 2018 goal celebrations: A statistical analysis of unbridled joy

July 17, 2018


“How would you celebrate if you scored at a World Cup? A jig by the corner flag, an emphatic sprint, jump and punch of the air, an emotional tussle with the goalnet, or just run as fast and far as you can until someone finally, gleefully leaps on you? Whether you’re a Milla, a Josimar or a Tardelli kind of guy, there are plenty of ways with which to physically revel in what, for most players, is the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime act of scoring on the world’s biggest stage. Goal celebrations – often just as complex, slow-motion-worthy and memorable as the goals themselves – are an art form. But, just like everything else, they’re moulded by cultural trends, context and just pure momentary instinct.” Telegraph


France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

July 10, 2018

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight


Melilla, Morocco vs. Spain and the World Cup’s Unique Football Rivalry

June 27, 2018

“On Monday night in Russia’s Kaliningrad Stadium, Morocco played Spain in another thrilling FIFA World Cup match. It was the first time the two countries—which have had a love-hate relationship for over a millennium—met since a two-legged 1962 World Cup playoffs tie. Nowhere on earth—with the exception of Ceuta—had the match such political resonances than in Melilla, which is, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on Moroccan soil. Melilla, with its wide boulevards, modernist buildings and tapas bars, has a distinctly Spanish feel. Palm trees abound.” Bleacher Report


World Cup 2018: Morocco’s Glimpse of the Possible

June 27, 2018

“For Morocco, this World Cup began with defeat. We were favored to win our first match, against Iran, but in a turn of fate, with the game tied nil-all and minutes before the end, one of the Moroccan players scored an own-goal. That 1-0 loss crushed our slim hopes to shine and to advance from a challenging group. Sure enough, in our second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, we proceeded to lose—despite dominating the match. On Monday, against Spain, we had little left to play for—except, perhaps, some honor. But in an amazing game that twice saw Morocco go ahead against one of the world’s top teams, we earned a 2-2 draw that left Moroccans proud of the national team despite its not making it to the next round.” NYBooks


Spain, Portugal Survive Simultaneous Madness; Uruguay Roughs Up Russia at World Cup

June 25, 2018

“Day 12 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the drama reached a peak level. In Group B, favorites Spain and Portugal couldn’t manage three points against their game foes (Spain 2, Morocco 2 and Portugal 1, Iran 1) but still advanced to the knockout rounds, even though Iran made it heartbreakingly close late against the Portuguese. Earlier in the day in Group A, things were considerably less dramatic, as Uruguay beat Russia 3-0 to win the group and leave the Russians in a we’ll-take-it second-place spot.” SI


Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

June 23, 2018

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country


Spain, Portugal, Uruguay Restore Order With Narrow World Cup Wins

June 20, 2018

“MOSCOW — Day 7 of World Cup 2018 was defined by 1-0 scorelines and winners from established soccer countries that never really seemed like they were in danger of squandering those slim advantages. Portugal 1, Morocco 0; Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0; and Spain 1, Iran 0 kept the tournament from having its first scoreless tie, and after a run of surprises in recent days, order was (at least temporarily) restored. Uruguay’s win ensured that La Celeste and host Russia will go through to the last 16 from Group A, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco were all eliminated from contention after two matches.” SI


Morocco 0 – 1 Iran

June 15, 2018

“Iran won their first match at a World Cup finals since 1998 as Morocco substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz scored an own goal in injury time. Bouhaddouz put the ball into his own net with a diving header at the near post in the 95th minute as Morocco defended a left-wing free-kick. The result was harsh on the African side, who had wasted numerous chances in the first half and were denied late on when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand produced a fine save from Hakim Ziyech.” BBC (Video)


World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers

June 11, 2018


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

June 10, 2018

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips


Who’s the Best No. 10 at the World Cup?

June 9, 2018


“In Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson describes the symbolism of the no. 10 as “the ‘free-spirited epitome of the artistry of soccer.’ And while free-spirits have become fewer and farther between as more money’s been poured into the game and managers have systematized their tactics, the no. 10 is still typically given to the most creative player on the team. Or, in Poland or Nigeria’s case, it’s given to a defensive midfielder best known for his ability to make tackles and pass the ball sideways. But each team has its reasons, and so with all of the World Cup squad lists now officially released, we each ranked all the nos. 10 set to play in Russia this summer, tallied the results, and came out with the following list. No. 1 is obvious, but that’s about the only spot we came close to agreeing on. Yes, someone, who shall remain nameless out of our sheer fear for his safety, didn’t put Lionel Messi first.” The Ringer


World Cup groups A-D preview – Football Weekly

June 9, 2018

“Max Rushden is joined by voices from around the world to preview World Cup groups A-D, including Danish royalty, Peruvian vigour and the prospect of a tournament without a French meltdown.” Guardian (Audio)


In Morocco, an Imported Team for the World Cup

June 7, 2018


“CASABLANCA, Morocco — Even before he began talking with midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, Ruud Gullit knew he would fail to convince him. The sales pitch — persuading Amrabat, a prodigiously gifted 21-year-old, to commit to playing for the Netherlands internationally — had some built-in advantages. Amrabat, after all, had been born in the village of Huizen, close to Amsterdam. He had lived his entire life in the country, and had played all his club soccer there.” NY Times


Your complete guide to all 736 players at the 2018 World Cup

June 7, 2018

“Biographies of every player in all 32 squads in Russia, including caps, goals, nicknames, hobbies and, once the tournament starts, ratings for every performance. We strive to give you an unbiased, trustworthy and in-depth view of the world’s most prestigious football tournament. If you think that’s worth something, then you can support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute.” Guardian


Can Morocco Squeeze Past Spain Or Portugal?

June 7, 2018

“Group B features what could have been one of the World Cup’s unexpected teams to watch in Morocco, whose 72.3 rating in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index places the Lions of the Atlas as the 18th best in the world, tops among all teams from Africa and ahead of more touted underdogs like Iceland and Peru. In Group A, Morocco would be the story. But an unfortunate draw matched it with defending Euro champion Portugal and perennial power Spain.” FiveThirtyEight


Meet the Five Most Exciting Prospects at the 2018 World Cup

June 6, 2018

“Yes, club soccer has overtaken the international game. And sure, all of the best players play for the best club teams, where they get coached by the best managers, who get to use the best facilities on a daily basis. Meanwhile, national teams congregate only a few times per year, for a friendly there or a qualification match here—and most sides get to play in a competitive tournament only once every 24 months. That’s why a tactic like pressing—swarming your opponent while they have the ball in their own defensive third—has dominated the club game but will be a rare sight in Russia this summer.” The Ringer (Video)