After World Cup success, Morocco has renewed aims to host

Dec 14, 2022, 8:01 PM | Updated: Dec 15, 2022, 10:02 am
Moroccan FA President Fouzi Lekjaa, left, sits in the tribune for the World Cup semifinal soccer ma...

Moroccan FA President Fouzi Lekjaa, left, sits in the tribune for the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

              Moroccan FA President Fouzi Lekjaa, left, sits in the tribune as French President Emmanuel Macron, right, applauds standing next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino as they watch the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Morocco fans hold flags during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
            
              Fans of Morococo sing the national anthem prior to the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui waves to fans at the end of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. France won 2-0 and will play Argentina in Sunday's final. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Moroccan fans cheer during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Moroccan FA President Fouzi Lekjaa, left, sits in the tribune for the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The idea that Morocco could co-host the 2030 World Cup with near-neighbors Spain and Portugal seemed a bit crazy when it was floated four years ago.

It doesn’t seem so crazy now.

Morocco has gained status inside FIFA and credibility with fans by eliminating Spain and then Portugal in knockout games to be the first African team to advance to a World Cup semifinals.

There are longer-term prospects for the national team with a solid foundation seemingly in place. There’s strong recruitment from the Moroccan diaspora in Europe, coupled with homegrown players nurtured at a world-class training center near Rabat.

Though there is no proposal yet to create a first multicontinent World Cup hosting bid, the head of Morocco’s soccer federation still believes in the concept.

“We wanted this organization to be shared between the African continent and the European continent,” Fouzi Lekjaa told The Associated Press in an interview at the team hotel this week.

“In order to show the world that the relationship between Africa and Europe is not only the relationship of illegal immigration and the fight against it,” Lekjaa said. “Rather, it is a relationship in which civilizations can meet and cultures meet.”

That Morocco and Spain are so geographically close — “We are only 14 kilometers (less than 10 miles) away” Lekjaa noted — is the core appeal of any joint bid as it was in 2018.

So is the support of King Mohammed VI who immediately asked for a renewed World Cup bid when Morocco lost the 2026 tournament hosting vote to the heavily favored United States-Canada-Mexico plan. The latest in a streak of losing Morocco bids was a 134-65 vote by FIFA member federations in Moscow on the eve of the last World Cup.

What has changed since 2018?

Lekjaa, a government minister in charge of the state budget, now has more influence at FIFA as an African elected delegate on its ruling Council since joining last year. He is clearly in good graces with FIFA president Gianni Infantino given that holding a government job was once a barrier to candidates in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“Now we seek to be a key player in the international dimension within FIFA,” Lekjaa acknowledged.

What seems possible in soccer politics also changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with continental championships postponed plus hosts and scheduled dates changed at short notice.

European soccer body UEFA was flatly opposed in 2018 to jointly bidding with another continent.

Still, Europe and Africa combine to have 109 of the 211 FIFA voting members and there was clear politics involved in Ukraine joining the Spain-Portugal bid in October.

FIFA has yet to specify a timetable and bid rules toward an expected hosting decision in 2024 for the 2030 tournament.

Infantino also had talks with political leaders that fueled speculation of an unlikely three-continent bid anchored by Saudi Arabia and also including Egypt and Greece. By comparison, uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco looks more logical.

The 100-year anniversary of the World Cup is in 2030, and the original 1930 host, Uruguay, is jointly bidding for it with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. The South American soccer body CONMEBOL has just 10 votes at FIFA.

Morocco is also building influence in African soccer and winning admirers globally for the $65 million Mohammed VI Football Center, which is a training base for players, coaches, referees and officials.

“Morocco’s policy has made us an important partner for all African countries. We are present in partnerships in money and business, and also in sports,” Lekjaa said.

Under his leadership since 2014, the Moroccan federation tried to professionalize management at its clubs, install more natural grass pitches and create regional youth training bases.

Casablanca-based team Wydad, coached by Walid Regragui, benefited from this strategy, winning Africa’s Champions League in May.

Regragui was installed as the coach of Morocco’s national team three months later, with Lekjaa emphasizing that the national team that beat Portugal on Saturday featured seven players from Moroccan clubs.

“There is no reason for European teams to be better than us,” Lekjaa said. “They are now better than us because they work in professional ways, and this is what we seek.”

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Switzerland's Wendy Holdener speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom,...
Associated Press

Shiffrin wins slalom, moves within 1 win of World Cup record

SPINDLERUV MLYN, Czech Republic (AP) — American skier Mikaela Shiffrin dominated a slalom Saturday for her 85th career victory to move within one of the World Cup record set by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark in the 1980s. Shiffrin can match the best mark of 86 wins in another slalom Sunday. Shiffrin had shared the women’s […]
1 day ago
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus waves as she holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy after defeating El...
Associated Press

Sabalenka beats Rybakina for Australian Open women’s title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The serves were big. So big. Other shots, too. The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces. And so it was immediately apparent in the Australian Open women’s final between Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina that the one who could manage to keep her serve […]
1 day ago
Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson (40) scores against Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisa...
Associated Press

Pettersson scores twice, Canucks beat Blue Jackets 5-2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Elias Pettersson scored twice, Bo Horvat had a career-high four assists and the Vancouver Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Friday night for their second victory in three games under Rick Tocchet. Tocchet took over as coach after Bruce Boudreau was fired Sunday. Quinn Hughes had a goal […]
1 day ago
Calgary Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) is congratulated after scoring against the Seattle Kr...
Associated Press

Flames rebound with impressive 5-2 win over Kraken

SEATTLE (AP) — Tyler Toffoli and the Calgary Flames rebounded from one of their ugliest losses of the season and picked up an important two points in the Pacific Division before starting the All-Star break. Toffoli, Elias Lindholm and Blake Coleman each had a goal and two assists, and the Flames topped the Seattle Kraken […]
1 day ago
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Ku...
Associated Press

Curry’s 35 points send Warriors past Raptors, 129-117

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 129-117 on Friday night. The high-scoring affair was close until the Warriors pulled away with a 31-point fourth quarter, securing a sweep in the season series. “It feels like we took better care of […]
1 day ago
New Jersey Devils' Jack Hughes and Vitek Vanecek (41) celebrate after Hughes scored in overtime of ...
Associated Press

Hughes scores winner in OT to lead Devils past Stars 3-2

DALLAS (AP) — Jack Hughes scored his second goal of the game 20 seconds into overtime, lifting the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night. Hughes’ winning goal skipped off the stick of Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and eluded Jake Oettinger as the Devils rallied from a 2-0 deficit […]
1 day ago
After World Cup success, Morocco has renewed aims to host