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CAF U23

Breaking! Nigeria Olympic Eagles crash land in Morocco

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The dream of featuring at the Paris 2024 Olympics has ended for the Nigerian U-23 team, tagged Olympic Eagles.

They stumbled at the last hurdle, crashing 2-0 to Guinea in the return leg match of the final qualifiers for  the CAF U-23 tournament holding later in May in Morocco.

The tournament in Morocco is where the teams to represent Africa at the 2024 Olympics will emerge.

The Nigerian team had played a disappointing goalless draw in Abuja last Wednesday and could not make up in the return match played in Rabat, Morocco as the Guineans do not have an approved home ground.

The Olympic Eagles held on to a goalless draw until they started crumbling in the 61st minute like a cube of sugar put in water. Eleven minutes later, they conceded the second goal.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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CAF U23

U23 Afcon 2023: King Mohammed VI investments in sports yield dividends

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La Tour Hassan Palace, Rabat, Morocco

It was a battle of titanic proportion Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday as Morocco beat arch rivals, Egypt to win the CAF U23 Africa Cup of Nations by 2-1.

Morocco U23 coach Isaam Charai at the post match conference rightly credited the Moroccan monarch,  King Mohammed VI, as the inspiration for the astronomic rise in Moroccan football standard.

To those who may not know, the coach’s statement could be considered an act of flattery. Bit it is not. Rabat will convinced doubters.

No country would have had such facility and will not excel in sports. It was at the complex that the Moroccan team camped. A visit to the Mohammed VI Football Complex at the Sale area of Rabat will reveal a royal state of the art facility which the monarch has given to the kingdom.

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The imposing building where the players were camped

One of the items that catches attention at the  vast entry lounge of the unique football complex is a huge framed picture of the reception accorded the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations winning team of Morocco.

All the players in the picture wore maroon coloured suits. In the middle of the group picture is a young boy, then 13. He wore a blue suit and a stripped tie.

That was the then Prince Mohammed who is today, King Mohammed VI. The magnificent football complex in Rabat is named after him.

The official photograph of the reception for the Africa Cup of Nations winners, Morocco. In the middle is the then Prince Mohammed who is now King Mohammed VI

Little wonder, Charai, the head coach of Morocco’s U23 team, attributed their success to King Mohammed VI. “We lifted this cup for King Mohammed VI,” Charai proudly declared.

The coach emphasized that their triumph was not a stroke of luck but a result of the team’s discipline and unwavering focus.

Information gathered reveals that there are three more of such football training complexes, though in lower scale, in Morocco while others are still being planned.

King Mohammed’s association with sports, especially football therefore pre-dated his ascension to the throne on 23 July 1999 upon the passing on of his father, King Hassan II.

Football in Morocco has blossomed under King Mohammed VI. At the moment, Moroccan clubs are holders of both the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup.

Women’s football has received a big boost as the Moroccan women’s team will debut at the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand later this summer.

Prior to King Mohammed VI reign, the Moroccan women’s team was like a punching bag in the African Women’s Championship.

For instance, the team was pummeled 8-0 by Nigeria on 17 October 1998. But only last year, Nigeria’s Super Falcons struggled in vein and were eliminated by Morocco in the semi-finals.

King Mohammed VI was born on 21 August 1963, the day the Nigeria Football Federation (Founded 1933, though they seemed not aware) clocked 30.

He is not the only royal person interested in sports. The imposing Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat is named after an uncle of King Mohammed VI, indicating the royal family’s strong obsession for sports.

Another indication could be gleaned from the picture of the trophy presentation to Real Madrid when the Spanish giants won the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup.

The trophy was presented by Prince Moulay Al Hassan, the Crown Prince of Morocco. At the time he was making the trophy presentation, he was 11 years old.

 

When in 2013 Raja Casablanca emerged as runners-up at the FIFA Club World Cup, following their  2-0 loss to Bayern Munich they were rewarded with a futuristic complex.

For their performance, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, the sports inclined ruler of Morocco opted to reward the club with structures instead of pecuniary which is the norm in Africa.

A football academy located on a 7.5 hectares of land in  the district of Ain Jemâa, in Bouskoura area of Casablanca is the remarkable gift to Raja Casablanca. The benefits are for ever.

A visit to the site was mind blowing. No club will own such facility and not be encouraged to scale greater heights.

 

Entrance to the imposing Raja Casablanca Academy, another of King Mohammed VI ‘s gift to Morocco

Mohammed Marouan is the Secretary General of the academy.

Pointing at the photograph that adorned the reception of the academy, he was full of praise to the Moroccan monarch for the kind gesture.

In the photograph is Prince Moulay Rachid, the younger brother to King Mohammed VI, as he presented the Moroccan Throne  Cup trophy, the Moroccan national cup competition to Raja Casablanca’s skipper after the 2017 final match.

Raja club holds their training session on the natural grass pitch of the Academy. One of such training session was held on Thursday the eve of their 5-0 defeat of Vipers of Uganda in the CAF Champions League.

According to Marouan, the Secretary General of the academy, the club comes there to train at the facility, which has a standard  natural grass training pitch as well as another one that is hybrid synthetic.

Two others were under construction at the time of the visit. In addition are four other training pitches, all lush green.

Marouan explained that the academy which was opened on 22 September 2022. currently have about 30 students, although the capacity is high. The apartments housing the academy players have 45 rooms and each has two beds for the young players.

On a typical day at the academy, the students are expected to be up from bed by 7: 00am and be ready for breakfast 30 minutes later.

By 8am, they should be leaving for school where they are expected to have breakfast from 8 to 8.30 am and launch at 1pm.

They will have snacks at 5pm and dinner at 8.00 pm. By 10.30pm, they are expected in their rooms.

Expectedly, the academy is equipped with well staffed clinic and equipment that ensure the good health of the inhabitants.

“We have four buildings (A, B, C and D). Building A is reserved for first-team players”, Marouan explained.

The Raja Casablanca team have two workouts a day. “It allows them to rest during the day and avoid returning to Casablanca and coming back again.

“Buildings B, C and D are dedicated to young people: cadets, juniors and hopefuls. We have 10 single rooms for the technical and medical staff,” he explained.

One of the large rooms of the complex have a trophy shelf where diplomas and trophies won by Raja Casablanca are displayed.

Indeed, the Raja Club Athletic Academy is a model in Africa.

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CAF U23

Morocco are U-23 African champions!

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Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat-Morocco.

It was well after midnight as the final match of the U23 Africa Cup of Nations in Rabat involving defending champions, Egypt and hosts, Morocco stretched into extra time after a 1-1 deadlock at regulation time.

But Morocco laughed last with a 2-1 victory as the skies of Rabat were illuminated with splendid fireworks.

Great thanks to Substitute player,  Oussamna Targhalline who connected a free kick from Ezzalzouli, almost on the dot of half time in the extra time.

Morocco have won their first U23 title and will be at Paris 2024 Olympics as continental champions.

What a match! It was the Egyptians that drew the first blood early in the match as Mahmoud Saber unleashed a brilliant curler into the top corner, giving his team an advantage after just nine minutes of play.

But the scorer did not last long in the match as he was given a red card following a reckless tackle on Moroccan player, Abdessamad Ezzalzouli.

The defending champions had to endure a one-man shortage throughout the duration of the match.

Despite being reduced to ten men, Egypt managed to hold their ground for the remaining minutes of regular time. However, their defence faltered in the 37th minute, allowing Yanis Begraoui to score the equalizer for the host nation.

Efforts from Egypt to secure a late equalizer proved fruitless, as Morocco held on to claim victory and secure their first  U-23 AFCON trophy.

Both Morocco and Egypt have earned their spots in next year’s Olympic Games, set to take place in Paris, alongside Mali, who secured their qualification after defeating Guinea in the third-place playoff game on Saturday.

Guinea can still secure a place as the fourth African side at the Olympic Games in Paris but they have to win a playoff against a yet-to-be-decided Asian opponent

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CAF U23

Jay Jay Okocha shines in Rabat, Morocco

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Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat-Morocco

Nigeria and African football legend, the Mercurial Austin Jay Jay Okocha was the trophy bearer of the U23 Africa Cup of Nations at the final match at the Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat on Saturday night.

Fifteen minutes to the kick off, dressed in navy blue suit, he walked majestically to the podium where he placed the cup.

Just as his name was announced, the jam packed stadium gave him a ravishing applause which he  acknowledged. He was one of the African legends invited to the finals of the U23 Africa Cup of Nations.

The others were Elhadji Douf (Senegal), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), Asamaoh Gyan (Ghana) Alexandre Song (Cameroon) Arthur Boka of Cote  d’Ivoire and Karim Haggui of Tunisia.

 

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