An entire nation dreams of the prospect of winning the FIFA World Cup. The fact that Morocco have been nothing short of a dark horse all the way through to a big World Cup semi-final makes their victories even more fulfilling. While everyone loves to watch an underdog story, there is one man who understands what this means to millions of Moroccans like him around the world.
The Islanders’ midfield lynchpin and one of ISL’s most-decorated imports, Ahmed Jahouh, has not only pulled on the Moroccan flag on his chest but has tasted success with the Atlas Lions – and is eager to see how far high-flying Morocco can go in the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“I’m very happy. I still can’t believe it, but Morocco is a very good team. They have very good staff and a very good coach,” remarked the 34-year-old following his country’s memorable run in the global football spectacle.
Jahouh, who made a short trip back to his hometown of Nador in Morocco during the Islanders’ week off, managed to witness first hand the passion and craze that has swept his nation – especially on the night they knocked out former World Cup winners Spain on penalties. “I watched the match in Morocco with my family. It was an unforgettable night for the Moroccan people. Everyone was very happy. History was written after 36 years of waiting. Thank you to the national team for this joy, and I wish them victory against Portugal, God willing”.
Four days after becoming the first African country to reach a World Cup quarterfinal, Morocco went one better – a gritty 1-0 win over Portugal meant they would now face France in the semifinal. Jahouh’s prayers answered and like him, millions of Moroccans can now dream.
A full international with Morocco, Jahouh reminisces his time with his national team and it is safe to say, he knows a thing or two about winning for Morocco. “I have good memories with the (Moroccan national) team. I played with them for four years, and we also won the Arab Cup. It's not similar to the World Cup, but definitely memorable,” says Jahouh.
While support pours in from back home, the Moroccan fans who have made the trip to Qatar have been nothing short of remarkable and Jahouh agrees. “Forty million fans are behind them and they deserve it. I hope they will do well in the semi final. We were hoping to just get into the second round, but now maybe we can win the World Cup. It’s nice to see the Moroccan team growing like that,” quipped a proud Jahouh.
Morocco’s dream run may look like a purple patch to many but in reality, it is an outcome of planning and development of a robust footballing ecosystem. “The Moroccan championships have developed in a fantastic way. In the last six seasons, it has become a professional championship in the full sense of the word with a very large audience that helps its teams and helps the players to present their best, technically and mentally. There are good stadiums and great matches. We have more than six divisions and this helps the emergence of many talented players,” elaborated Jahouh.
When asked about his take on this history-making Moroccan side in Qatar and if he has any favorites, the midfielder said, “It is hard for me to pick, I have many friends in the squad. We have all played together in the Moroccan League, either on the same team or against each other. We’ve also met during national camps.”
“This Moroccan team plays like a group. There are no superstars in the team. They have unity and they fight fearlessly. That's why they are very good and have done well,” added Jahouh.
For Jahouh’s compatriots, a date with history awaits on Wednesday night. He may like to play down his nation’s chances, but only as a superstition. What is certain is that whatever the outcome, Jahouh and forty million Moroccans will have their head held high.
“I'm proud to be Moroccan and to represent this country in India. Now, many Indians know about Morocco and football in Morocco, that is a great feeling,” said a brimming Jahouh. “I wish I was there (in Morocco), and I wish to see Morocco in the World Cup Final against Argentina!”
Ahmed Jahouh and the Islanders are back in Hero ISL action once again as Des Buckingham’s side makes the trip to Kolkata to face East Bengal FC on Friday, December 16 at the VYBK.