The Under 20 FIFA World Cup in 2019 seem far away after Morocco lost 2-0 to Mauritania in the first round of 2019 AFCON U20 Qualifiers.
It was supposed to be a relatively easy hurdle to overcome for the Under 20 national team, when Mauritania awaited in Nouakchott for the first of two legs between the sides. The winner will progress to the second qualifying round against Guinea, on the road to next year’s African Cup of Nations U20 in Niger. But instead of a comfortable win, Morocco lost by two goals and have a huge task when the teams play each other again in the end of April.
Head coach Mustapha Madih had called up five players based in Spain and one in Belgium, but European passports didn’t seem to help at all against cynical Mauritanians who were ruthless in their tackles and made sure to waste time whenever they had the chance.
The first goal came in the 17th minute, when a quick Mauritius free kick led to an easy finish from close range. The Moroccan defence seemed to have become too comfortable and was brutally punished.
Morocco came out in the second half looking like a completely different team than the static, arrogant bunch who played before the break. We could finally see some urgency and good passing play, and the young Atlas Lions actually found the net not once, but twice. Both times the Egyptian referee signalled for offside, much to the Moroccan player’s frustration.
Then, out of nowhere, Mauritius doubled their lead. A corner kick from the left went all the way past the goalkeeper an into the net. The homecrowd in Nouakchott went crazy and Morocco seemed to have given up at that point. It could have been even worse when the unstable Moroccan goalie missed a long cross and one of the host’s players missed from an open net.
The Atlas Lions will now have to beat Mauritius by at least two goals when the sides face each other for the second leg in Rabat next month. If they fail, we will have another U20 African Cup of Nations without Morocco.