Brazil and Morocco went into the quarter-final of the Lithuania 2020 World Cup with different objectives. The five-time champions have the pressure of lifting a World Cup again after the disappointment of Colombia 2016. Morocco had already improved all records in a World Cup before that match. They just had to enjoy their game, the prize of an international tournament and continuing to grow as a team. Before that they had six defeats in two World Cups and a grim memory of Thailand 2012 when the team suffered a serious traffic accident days before and were on the verge of withdrawing from the tournament.
Brazilian and Spanish futsal no longer reign supreme. The last world champions were Argentina and Brazil are not having a good time in Lithuania 2020. In the group stage they won all their matches, but in the round of 16 Japan put them on the ropes, although they ended up winning 4-2. The African champions' futsal also put the Brazilians off their game and they struggled to win and qualify for the semi-finals where they will face Argentina.
Morocco's coach is Hicham Dguig. He came into the job for that 2012 World Cup. In the car accident he could have been left in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury. The Atlas Lions participated and lost all three matches. In Colombia 2016 they did not win either. They played that World Cup without previous friendlies. Hicham Dguig's plan was still on track. The arrival of Fouzi Lekjaa as president of the Moroccan Football Federation gave a special status to futsal with a significant investment. The secret of Morocco's transformation is told by Hicham himself in an interview with the FIFA website, "I developed a work plan between 2015 and 2019 that helped us win the African Futsal Cup title in 2016. I then took charge of coach training at the Royal Moroccan Football Federation as a FIFA expert and head of training in Africa, an activity that helps me to see things more clearly, whether in management, technical or physical aspects.
Of the 16 players called up for the World Cup in Lithuania, only five played in Europe. El Mesrar and Bakkali played for ACCS Futsal, the French champions. And three in Spain: Anass, in Ribera Navarra; Khalid in Santa Coloma; and Hamza in Levante. The rest play in the Moroccan futsal league and the level is lower. The coach balances all this with monthly training sessions and close contact with his players to make them feel part of their national team.
Morocco had a shot hit the post in the first half against Brazil. They played a back and forth game and condemned the tactical order to try to surprise the Canarinha team. Rodrigo's goal came from a long-range free-kick. Reda Khiyari could have done much more from a ball that went under his body. Hicham Dguig relied on the game he has been working on for years with his team and did not bring on the goalkeeper until the last two minutes of the game, but Morocco could no longer find the necessary moves to find an equaliser.
Morocco left Lithuania proud. Their futsal was on a par with the world stage and they take with them the experience of two draws, against Portugal and Thailand, and a 6-0 thrashing of the Solomon Islands. In the Round of 16, they beat Venezuela 3-2 and certified their level to participate in a World Cup. The work and training within their Federation is the key to their improvement. The youth academy is working on new players and everyone is looking at Hamza. The player from Palma has entered the elite of world futsal and is committed to the growth of Morocco.
The historic moment of the Atlas Lions does not end in Lithuania. They have to continue to reign in Africa and to promote the work of the younger players.