By Rashmi Goel

It was potentially more significant than just the Atlas Lions making history when Achraf Hakimi delivered a low-flying Panenka penalty in the last-16 shootout against Spain to send Morocco into the quarter-finals for the first time at the World Cup. It was a huge gamble to sack controversial head coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who got them to Qatar, only a few months before the tournament after a bitter row with star player Hakim Ziyech - who was exiled by Chelsea - and hire the more conciliatory Walid Regragui. The move paid off handsomely with Ziyech back in the fold. A number of the remarkable scenes at the Education City Stadium in Doha following the final whistle - including both Yassine Bounou, who made two impressive saves during the shootout, and coach Regragui being thrown into the air by the Atlas Lions squad - will remain in the history of the World Cup.

It is important to realize that no matter what happens from here, whether it be in the 2022 competition for Morocco, could the fame, profile, and goodwill generated in front of thousands of their fans in the Middle East be enough to help the football-mad north African country of 40 million lands the World Cup after five unsuccessful bids? There was an entry from the Royal Moroccan Football Federation for this year's World Cup, but they finished in second place as they have on four other occasions. There is now widespread public recognition of and acceptance of the bribery of Fifa Executive Committee members as well as another chicanery within football's world governing body. During his testimony before the FBI in 1998 and 2010, former US delegate Chuck Blazer admitted to having been bribed to cast a vote for France at the expense of Morocco on both occasions. In 2006 and 1994, Germany was pipped by the USA, along with joint-hosts Mexico and Canada, and in 2026, it was the USA, along with joint-hosts and bidders Mexico and Canada, who prevailed with just two bids.

In spite of missing out on the next World Cup, the Moroccans are clearly determined to not let this opportunity pass them by, as shortly after this announcement, they announced that they would try again for the 2030 World Cup, which will be decided in 2024 after the beginning of the bidding process. A great deal of technical and construction work has been done and pledges have been made, as well as a more sustainable infrastructure will be planned for 2026. This will help them in the future. The Emir of Qatar has previously stated that he would unhesitatingly support Morocco's bid for the 2030 World Cup. However, Qatar voted for Morocco in 2026 and has already hosted the World Cup themselves, although controversially, they might be an asset. The quarter-final result for Morocco is also the first quarter-final ever for an Arab or Muslim country, as well as for the North African region as a whole. Among the African nations with a World Cup pedigree are Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt.

If Morocco is to compete against Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, as well as Spain, Portugal, and Ukraine from Europe, these realities and nuances may also come into play during the voting process. The 2010 World Cup has so far proved to be the closest miss for Morocco, as this would be the first time the tournament would take place in Africa. However, it is important to emphasize that all of this murky history is a million miles away from the sheer joy shown by the Morocco team in Qatar, who displayed their pride for their country and its people in a way that was unmistakable and untainted. Are there any other huge rewards it can reap?

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