Why Arab Teams Failed at World Cup?

Published June 27th, 2018 - 05:43 GMT
Moroccan football supporters react as they watch their national team play in their Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match against Portugal at a sports cafe in Marrakech on June 20, 2018.
Moroccan football supporters react as they watch their national team play in their Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match against Portugal at a sports cafe in Marrakech on June 20, 2018. ABDERRAHMANE MOKHTARI / AFP

A record four Arab teams featured in this World Cup, but all of them — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia — were knocked out in the group stages. Here we look at the reasons why.

Saudi Arabia did at least improve as they went on, beating Egypt 2-1 after 5-0 and 1-0 defeats to Russia and Uruguay, while Morocco were the most admirable holding Spain to a 2-2 draw after 1-0 defeats to Iran and Portugal.

Egypt were perhaps the most disappointing with worsening losses to Uruguay 1-0, Russia 3-1 and Saudi, while Tunisia still have the chance to save face against Panama on Thursday after losing their openers 2-1 to England and 5-2 to Belgium.


For a start, who said they failed? Not one of these four teams appeared in the last two World Cups and Egypt even waited 28 years to get back here, so even just being in Russia is a massive achievement.

Not one had played in more than four World Cups coming into this tournament, and only Morocco and Saudi had previously reached the Last 16 once each in 1986 and 1994 respectively.
Maybe Arab teams need to make World Cups more often before we start dreaming of fairy tale runs, and maybe looking at a group stage exit as failure, isn’t the right attitude at this stage in their development. Egypt coach Hector Cuper said: “Sometimes I feel there is a need to criticise the performance just because we lost.” - True, sometimes you just lose.


Why are these teams not making World Cups more often or getting out of the group when they get there? Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul puts it down to fitness. “We have common problems,” he said of Arab teams after Tunisia’s exit. “I think we need to change our lifestyle, because it is not in line with high-level football. We need to change the way we train. I think we need two more generations to reach the required level of performance. In terms of fitness and physical strength we are far from a high level.”


Nabil Maaloul also put it down to lack of experience. “We need to have players who are professional at a very young age, 12 or 13, to improve their performance at a later stage.”

Domestic leagues (and getting to more World Cups) should provide this but the leagues in these countries aren’t on par with Europe. The alternative is get players out to European clubs at a much younger age.

Saudi sent nine of their players out on loan to Spanish clubs six months before the tournament (none of them played), right idea, completely wrong timing, it should have been done when they were in their early teens. Saudi coach Antonio Pizzi admitted after the Uruguay defeat “We didn’t have the tools they had.” While Morocco’s Herve Renard said: “We lacked experience — we learnt what it is to play at a very high level.”

If it wasn’t for Uruguay’s late winner against Egypt, Morocco’s last minute own goal against Iran, or Tunisia’s last gasp defeat to England, then it could have been a different story.

That’s what Egypt coach Hector Cuper is holding onto. “We lost two games with goals conceded after 90 minutes,” he said of the Uruguay and Saudi clashes. “That was unlucky.”

Mohammad Salah injuring his shoulder pre-tournament also didn’t help. “If he had not injured himself in the Champions League final then he would have had an extra three weeks to train with us — we would have preferred his injury to not occur.”

VAR discrepancies

An extension to luck perhaps, but Morocco coach Herve Renard was particularly aggrieved with the manner in which they were knocked out, after Ronaldo’s header in a 1-0 defeat to Portugal appeared to follow a foul in the box. “A goal was conceded that was a huge foul. It was not seen. Why?”

Morocco were also denied a penalty after Pepe clattered into Khalid Boutaib. “It was similar to an incident in the match between France and Australia, for which there was a penalty. It may have been unintentional but why do we get different decisions?” Spain’s late equaliser against Morocco was also questionably overturned as being offside but by then Morocco were already out.

By Ashley Hammond

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