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‘Anyone but Algeria!’ Rivalry between Morocco and Algeria plays out in Club World Cup



‘Anyone but Algeria!’ Rivalry between Morocco and Algeria plays out in Club World Cup

Most Kenyans will likely celebrate a rival’s downfall by giggling and toasting to it in private.

Well, I learnt that Moroccans have a different means of achieving the same objective.

On Saturday night, hundreds of Moroccan football fans publicly displayed their delight after hosts Algeria lost to Senegal in the final of the 2022 African Nations Championship (Chan) at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers.

Senegal triumphed 5-4 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out after the two teams had played out a barren draw in normal and extra time at the Nelson Mandela Stadium.

At the Marriot Hotel where I am residing here in Fez, locals watching the final match on TV could not hide their joy.

The celebrations started in earnest when Akram Djahnit had Algeria’s first post-match penalty saved by Senegal goalkeeper Pape Mamadou Sy.

The celebrations were however short-lived after Gabon referee Pierre Ghislain Atcho ordered Djahnit to retake the penalty as Mamadou was adjudged to have been off his line when the shot was taken.

He converted the penalty kick, throwing Moroccan football fans into a frenzy.

“Anyone but Algeria!” the Moroccan fans continuously shouted.

Senegal, coached by the classy Pay Thiaw, recovered to convert their spot kicks through Moussa Ndiaye, Moussa Kante Cheikhou Omar Ndiayeand and poster boy Lamine Ndiaye, while Kendouci Muhmaad’s effort struck the crossbar.

The final whistle was greeted with joy, celebrations and dancing by Moroccans, who freely hugged and danced with Senegalese journalists, who are here to cover the 2022 Fifa Club World Cup, and also analyse the country’s preparedness to host both the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations and 2030 Fifa World Cup.

Morocco is bidding for the hosting rights of both tournaments.

Though initially simmering in the background, Morocco’s beef with Algeria reached crescendo in 2021, when Algeria’s Supreme Security Council closed the country’s airspace to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft.

The move came less than a month after Algeria cut relations with Morocco.

The decision, Algeria said, had come ‘in view of the continued provocations and hostile practices on the Moroccan side’.

Two years down the line, Algeria’s decision has affected several flights.

It forced me to travel to Morocco for this assignment via Paris aboard Air France on an eight-hour flight from Nairobi, coupled with a six-hour layover at the Charles Gauelle airport, and then negotiate another two and a half hour flight to Rabat.

This is unlike in 2019 when I flew directly from Nairobi to Casablanca, Morocco’s capital, through Algeria, aboard Air Maroc in a six-hour flight.

The disagreements between these two nations also degenerated following comments attributed to Morocco’s envoy in New York in favour of the self-determination of the Kabylie region in Algeria.

Algiers also accuses Rabat of backing MAK, a separatist group that the government has declared a terrorist organisation.

Morocco has insisted that Algeria was unjustified in cutting ties and its arguments were ‘fallacious and even absurd’.

And when the world thought it couldn’t get worse, Morocco announced in January 2023 it will not travel to defend her African Nations Championship title, after Algeria refused to demands for a direct flight from Rabat to Constantine.

The move was considered shocking, as sports, and especially football, is known to unite even the strongest of enemies, as witnessed when USA played and lost 2-1 to Iran at the 1998 Fifa World Cup in France at a time leaders from the two countries could barely talk.

With Morocco pulling out of CHAN, it appears fair, in the eyes of Moroccans atleast, that any other team, but Algeria, should win the title. But for how long?

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