kuttab56_Shaun Botterill - FIFAFIFA via Getty Images_moroccoworldcupbounou Shaun Botterill/FIFA via Getty Images

A Winning World Cup Strategy for the Arab World

Morocco’s success in the tournament has united Arabs throughout the Middle East and North Africa behind a common hope. Can the team’s winning strategies do something similar for the region’s politics?

AMMAN – For decades, the Arab world has suffered from disunity. While it is connected by geography, language, and culture, the region’s lack of cohesion has long allowed foreign powers to plunder its resources. The legacy of colonial divide-and-rule tactics remains pervasive, and parochialism has prevented Arabs from leveraging their huge oil wealth and relatively educated populations. But the FIFA World Cup has shown us another way.

Football has emerged as a great unifier following a string of unexpected victories for Arab countries. In November, Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, Tunisia defeated France, and Morocco routed Belgium. Then, during the knockout stage, Morocco made history by eliminating both Spain and Portugal to become the first Arab country to secure a place in the semifinals.

Morocco’s victories were the result of a perfectly executed plan devised by coach Walid Regragui, who placed goalkeeper Yassine Bounou at the center of the team’s strategy. Bounou repeatedly stymied Spain’s attempts to score, and Morocco went on to eliminate the team in penalty shootouts. Nor could Portugal’s attackers find a way to beat Bounou, and Regragui’s side pulled off a stunning 1-0 win. “I’m trying to think of when such a shock as this has happened in the World Cup,” one commentator told the BBC. “Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” Bounou said.