At a football academy near Rabat, 100 young Moroccans hope to emulate the success of alumni who took the national team to a World Cup semifinal and will play in a third-place game on Saturday.
Morocco spent $13m to build Mohammed VI Football Academy in 2010 when the kingdom’s scene in the sport was in the doldrums, lagging behind African counterparts after having failed to reach the World Cup since 1998.
While many of the triumphant Atlas Lions squad grew up abroad, four of those who were born in Morocco trained as youngsters at the nation’s principal academy, which brings in talent from across the country.
“The World Cup participation of players who graduated from the academy, and their run to reach the semifinals for the first time in the history of Arabs and Africa, gives a sense of pride and honour to all technical, medical and administrative staff,” said the academy’s Tarik El Khazri who coached Youssef En Nesyri, scorer of Morocco’s winning goal in their quarterfinal defeat of Spain.
The three other national team players who studied and trained at the academy are Azzedine Ounahi, Nayef Aguerd and Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti.
The academy stretches over 17 hectares (42 acres) and has its own boarding house, restaurant, clinic, entertainment hall, swimming pool and classrooms, as well as nine pitches, including a covered one.
The curriculum combines training on the pitch with classroom sessions. Most students leave the academy with a bachelor’s degree.
Some 90 percent of graduates get to continue elsewhere as football players, said another coach Belmahdi Abdellatif, and most big Moroccan teams comprise players who started out at the academy.
Others went on to play in Europe.
Meanwhile, Moroccan football is on the up, with its clubs winning all three pan-African tournaments this year.
Khazri said the academy is “flooded with applications” after the Moroccan national team’s run at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.