Former star striker, Abdelkrim Merry, known by his nickname ‘Krimau’ is a legend in Moroccan football.
The 67-year-old played for his country’s dream team in Mexico in 1986, scoring one of the three goals against Portugal, a 3-1win that took the Atlas Lions to the second round, becoming the first African and Arab team to do so.
Krimau says the team’s success in Mexico was the result of a long period of preparation dating back to 1982 when it won the Mediterranean Games, and then the 1985 Pan-Arab Games in which they reached the final.
A few months before World Cup, they played in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, narrowly losing to the eventual champions, Egypt.
‘In 1986, there was the African Cup before the World Cup, so there was continuity in the team. The selection was well known since 1982. If you ask any Moroccan if they know the team of 1982 to 1988, they’ll name all the players,’ he says.
Morocco was eliminated from the 1986 World Cup by Germany which went on to win the competition, but the memory of that run in the tournament remains strong.
‘We played against great teams such as Poland, England, Germany, Portugal. That means that the competition was tough, but we were well prepared and well equipped, and our morale was high.’
A true pioneer, Krimau was one of the first Arab footballers to star in Europe, playing his entire career for clubs in France apart from his brief international career.
As Moroccans remember the 1986 World Cup, they dream of the Atlas Lions going at least as far in the competition in Qatar.
Placed in Group F, Morocco will play its first match on Wednesday against Croatia, before facing Belgium on Sunday and Canada on 1 December.