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No 17: Morocco leave England fighting for their lives at Mexico 86

Morocco’s history makers were just getting warmed up when they faced Bobby Robson’s men.

No 17: Morocco leave England fighting for their lives at Mexico 86

It’s a match remembered by England fans for the misfortunes of Manchester United duo Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins. For Moroccans it was a step on the road to an unforgettable World Cup campaign.

The North Africans had drawn their first match 0-0 against Poland at Mexico 86, while England had lost by a single goal to Portugal. Still, it was Bobby Robson’s men that were expected to get their campaign back on track when the two countries met on June 6 in Monterrey.

But Morocco, les by Brazilian coach Jose Faria, had a few shocks in store for the three European opponents in their group.

Aziz Bouderbala, Abdelkrim Merry (or Krimau), Badou Zaki and Mohammed Timoumi, all relatively unknown before the tournament, would go on to become household names in African and Arab football, and legends in their own homeland.

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Thought it might not have been apparent at the time, this 0-0 draw would come to be seen as the moment that Morocco proved they could compete with Europe’s best.

In truth, it was a dull match that was brought to life by Bryan Robson’s tournament-ending shoulder injury on 41 minutes, and then a minute later by Ray Wilkins’s petulant sending off. Suddenly England were facing the prospect of a second defeat and a potentially humiliating exit.

In the second half Robson rejigged his side, taking off the ineffective Mark Hateley for Gary Stevens on 75 minutes, a clear indication he was settling for a point. Surprisingly, and perhaps frustratingly for their fans, Morocco did not go for the kill in a match clearly there for the taking.

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By the end, Robson’s men were battered and bruised in the Mexican heat, ultimately grateful for a draw in a match they were expected to win.

Arguably it was missed opportunity for the Moroccans, though not one that would come back to haunt them in any way. Portugal would bear witness to the Arab nation’s potential in the next match.

England recovered, of course, and went on to have a date with destiny and Diego Maradona. For Morocco, it was a the start of a historic, unforgettable odyssey that would see them become the first Arab or African nation to qualify to the knock out stages of the World Cup.

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