Morocco’s head coach, Walid Regragui has apologized and stated that he made an error tagging his nation favorites in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Côte D’Ivoire.
The 47-year-old led Morocco to a record-breaking FIFA World Cup late last year I’m Qatar, finishing fourth, after their 2#1 defeat to Croatia on Saturday in the classification game.
Morocco’s newfound form under Regragui, has impressed many football analysts, who have since tipped them to go all the way and end Morocco’s 46-year-old AFCON barren run during the 34th edition of the continental showpiece.
Regragui initially joined the section asking for the trophy in Côte D’Ivoire to be brought home, in a surprised turn around of events, he has now reconsidered his position.
“I made a big mistake during the World Cup. I said ‘We can win everything, if we are not King of the Africa we cannot be Kings of the world’ and after some time I came back to earth.
“I think it will be very difficult for us to win the AFCON, we will not be favourites. The nations that did not experience the World Cup  scare me more. But for us, in sub-Saharan Africa, it has always been complicated for Morocco. I don’t even know if we’ve ever been to the semi-final in our history but maybe. We have only won one African Cup in our history,” explained Regragui before adding; “The last time we made a semi-final I think I was a player, I had hair. I apologize to the Moroccan people because I said that if we did not make at least the semi-final [in Ivory Coast] I would leave the national team myself. But I think that today there are better teams than Morocco on the continent,” the former international summed up his submission in a recent interview.
Morocco has been drawn in AFCON group D alongside returning Tanzania and former winners Zambia and the DR Congo.
Morocco has been Eliminated at the quarter-final during the last editions of the AFCON in Cameroon 2021, by Egypt.
Walid Regragui will hope to find the right formula to go all the way and make Morocco jubilate again even before they host the tournament in 2025.
The last time the Atlas Lions won the AFCON was in 1976. They came close again in 2004 but Moustapha Hadji and co lost to Tunisia.
So let’s take a look at what makes a winner, shall we? Here’s kick442.com’s guide to winning the Men’s African Cup of Nations.
Shed the white supremacist mentality
Aliou Cisse has always taken a stand in favour of local coaches for African national teams, pointing to his own example, as well as that of Regragui, to prove that foreign tacticians are not necessary for success.
“African coaches should be given the respect they deserve,” said Cisse. “They should understand that they are fighting for legitimacy in the African continent. They should start believing that they are capable of winning and when I say winning, I mean winning big.”
Goals win games but defense wins championships
Traditionally, finishing in the top five for goals conceded per game among the 24 participants is a huge boon to your nation’s AFCON chances. In the last two editions, the finalists had the least goals conceded. Senegal and Egypt conceded just two in 2021, meanwhile Algeria and Senegal conceded the same in 2019. AFCON 2021 winner Senegal scored nine to Egypt’s four while AFCON 2019 winner Algeria scored thirteen to Senegal’s eight.
This isn’t entirely unexpected. We see that with new coaches at almost any level, it’s quicker to get your team up to speed on your defensive identity than it is to get them ready in any other phase. You really don’t have the time to coach more complex attacking systems over sporadic 10-day national team camps.
The lesson? A good defense can go a long way at the AFCON
How valuable is a striker, anyways?
We often think of strikers as the players who win big international games. But do strikers really matter as much as we think they do?
In AFCON 1988, we had Roger Milla. In AFCON 2000 we had Patrick Mboma. But the last seven editions have been won with teams playing as a collective unit rather than depending on the exploits of a single player.
So maybe strikers aren’t the most important part of the team.
But there just might be a key position if we look back towards the goal.
Goalkeepers win you games folks!
Yellows, Reds, and the power of the referees
With the introduction of VAR, we’ve seen a few significant changes to the international game.
The last three winners of the last three editions have topped the charts in terms of yellow cards. Cameroon had 13 in 2017, Algeria had 14 in 2019, and Senegal had 13 in 2021. But the most important thing is that they all avoided red cards in the knockout stages. If you want to boost your chances of winning a trophy, you have to keep your players on the field.
Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces
There are whole teams who build themselves around solid defending, decent transitions, and being good on set pieces. Take 2021 winners Senegal. And more recently, Morocco’s run at the World Cup semi-final.
Set pieces are the golden goose of international play and everyone is just now starting to realize it. If you want your country to go deep, nailing set pieces is pretty much a requirement.
The dreaded penalty shootout. It may seem like a lottery, but there is some data to think about here.
According to Apesteguia and Palacios-Huerta, considering some 270 shootouts across the major continental tournaments, and major club tournaments, shooting first in the shootout results in a win 60.5% of the time. That’s a significant result!
Apesteguia and Palacios-Huerta asked players, if you win the toss, where do you want your team to shoot? A whopping 96% said their preference is to shoot first. When asked why, the overwhelming majority answered with some variation of “to put the pressure on”.
Veterans tend to score at higher rates than young players (77.13% for 33-year-olds, 74.55% for 18-year-olds, according to InStat).
Egypt was able to beat Cameroon in the semi-final shootout by doing its homework on such a valuable statistic. Cameroon won in the third place playoff while Senegal won the final.
Coaches, do your homework, guys!
Morocco continues to assert itself as one of the best teams in the world. After the Brazil game, Walid Regragui showed his joy and shows great ambitions for the next African Cup of Nations in 2023.
“The next AFCON? Of course we are favourites but we know Africa and it’s difficult.“
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