In Mexico, in 1986, two African teams participated: Algeria and Morocco. While the Algerians fell in the first round in a difficult group with Brazil, Spain and Northern Ireland, Morocco unexpectedly went on to become the first African team to win a group in a world cup, ahead of three strong European sides, England, Poland and Portugal.
In their first two matches Morocco had first tied 0-0 with the 1982 bronze winners from Poland, and then tied 0-0 with England. In the meantime, Portugal had defeated England 1-0 and lost 1-0 to Poland, and thus apparently had good chances of progressing to the next round against the still-underestimated Moroccans. Built around players from the two major clubs in Portugal, Benfica and FC Porto, Portugal was participating in only its second World Cup since 1966, and had been the first to defeat West Germany away in a qualifier.
However, the Portuguese team had been surrounded by scandals up to the World Cup: a Benfica player on the squad, Antonio Veloso, had been suspended for doping and the players had during the preparation threatened to strike, as they were not satisfied with the prize money. This created great instability on the team, that was somewhat considered the joke of the tournament.
In spite of all this circus, they were still considered favourites against the Moroccans.
Morocco were coached by the Brazilian José Faría, and mainly consisted of a solid core of players from Moroccan clubs, notably the champions FAR Rabat, supplemented with some players from second-tier European clubs, such as Valencienne’s Mustafa Merry, Le Havre’s Abdelkrim “Krimau” Merry and Laussane’s Moustaffa El Haddaoui. Their star was undoubtedly the outstanding Mohammed Timoumi from FAR Rabat – African Player of the year in 1985.
The last two matches of the group, England-Poland and Morocco-Portugal were played at the exact same time, and all four teams had a chance at qualifying for the next round.
There was little doubt that the Portuguese were expecting a victory.
Morocco completely overran the Portuguese from the start of the match in front of 24,000 in Guadalajara. After 19 minutes the FAR Rabat striker Abderrazak Khairi picked up a return ball outside the Portuguese area and was given space by the Portuguese defense to score on a good long-range effort.
Only seven minutes later the defender Labid Khalifa centered from the right side into the Portuguese area. The ball drifted down towards the far post where Khairi, completely unmarked, came rushing from behind, and in perfect control first-timed the ball into the Portuguese goal.
2-0 down the Portuguese apparently realised that they were heading out of the tournament, but were unable to really put pressure on the well-organised and confident Moroccan side. First half ended 2-0, and halfway into the second half the Moroccans sealed their outstanding victory: combining excellently, Mohammed Timoumi received the ball on the left side. With the Portuguese defense caught off-hand, he saw “Krimau” Merry pushing forward in the center, and made a perfect pass that Merry controlled perfectly and shot before he could be reached by a Portuguese defender.
The Moroccans somehow relaxed after this, while the Portuguese were clearly disillusioned. It didn’t matter that Benfica’s Diamantino, ten minutes before time, scored a consolation goal for Portugal on a somewhat coincidental chance, but it made no difference for Morocco’s achievement: as England defeated Poland 3-0, it was clear that Morocco were group winners in front of England. Portugal ended last in the group and had to return to much criticism in Portugal.
Morocco faced the later finalists of West Germany in the last-16, and lost 1-0 on a late goal by Lothar Matthäus.
- 11th June 1986, Estadio Tres de Marzo, Guadalajara
- Attendance 24,000
- Referee: Alan Snoddy (Northern Ireland)
Goals: 1-0 Khairi (19), 2-0 Khairi (26), 3-0 Merry Krimau (62), 3-1 Diamantino (80)
Morocco: Badou; Khalifa, Lamris, El Biyaz, Bouyahyaoui, Dolmy, Moustaffa El Haddaoui (Soulaimain), Bouderbala, A. "Krimau" Merry, Timoumi, Khairi
Portugal: Damas; Antonio Sousa (Diamantino), Alvaro (Rui Aguas), Carlos Manuel, Pacheco, Frederico, Gomes, Futre, Jaimes Magalhães, Oliveira, Inacio