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Can World Cup heroes Morocco now succeed where Nigeria failed?

22:38 EAT 01/12/2022
Okocha, Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Siasia
The Atlas Lions will surely be confident of achieving what the Super Eagles never did after securing World Cup progression.

Morocco joined Nigeria in a special World Cup club on Thursday, after defeating Canada 1-0 in their final group game.

In defeating the Canadians 2-1—thanks to a Youssef En-Nesyri double—the Atlas Lions ensure they finish Group F in top spot, having taken seven points from their three opening matches.

Their performance means they’ve resigned Croatia to second spot in the pool, while fancied Belgium go home at the first hurdle after a miserable campaign in which they’ve scored just once.

It’s a rare achievement for African teams to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup—only Senegal and Ghana have achieved it this century—and rarer indeed for African teams to progress as group winners.

Before this tournament, only two nations—Morocco and Nigeria—had ever progressed to the World Cup knockouts as group winners.

The Super Eagles have achieved the feat in 1994 and 1998, while the Atlas Lions previously advanced as group winners in 1986…they now equal Nigeria in becoming the only African team to twice top their opening pool at the global showpiece.

However, can the Atlas Lions now progress where the Super Eagles failed?

In both 1994 and 1998, the West African giants dazzled during the opening stages, only to fall in the first knockout game after their magnificent First Round display.

In ’94, their debut appearance at the tournament, the Golden Generation saw off Bulgaria and Greece in the opening round, but they were unable to follow it up in the Second Round, as Italy triumphed 2-1 in extra time.

The Super Eagles performed admirably against the eventual finalists—taking the lead through Emmanuel Amunike—but a Roberto Baggio double, including an extra-time winner, ultimately ensured the Azzurri progressed.

In ’98, it was a similar story; Spain and Bulgaria were seen off in Nigeria’s first two matches—as they took control of the group with a maximum six points—but everything unravelled in the knockouts as they were outclassed 4-1 by Denmark at the Stade de France.

Ultimately, Nigeria never succeeded in topping their group and then following that up by victorious showing in the Last 16.

Can Morocco—who have been one of the most impressive sides in Qatar so far—secure yet another win for Africa at this tournament and ensure that they can achieve what the Super Eagles consistently failed to do?

Based on their showings so far, would you bet against them?