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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK

1970: The roaring Lions

By Julian Simpson
in Morocco

After a 36-year absence from football's premier event, Morocco's Atlas Lions led Africa's return to the World Cup in 1970.

It was the first time that the continent was allotted a permanent qualifying spot for the finals.

For Said Ghandi, it was the chance of a lifetime.

The Atlas Lions striker knew their opening game against the dreaded West Germans was going to be a baptism of fire.

"West Germany was like Goliath," Ghandi reminisces.

"They had star players like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier."

But the Moroccans had no intention of giving the Europeans an easy victory.

In the 21st minute, Houmane Jarir scored the game's opening goal, stunning 12,000 fans at the Estadio Guanajuato in Leon.

"Our first goal really shocked the Germans," Ghandi said.

"Only God knows what they must have thought when we were in the lead."

Robbed

After a fruitful first half, the second half saw an unpleasant reversal in fortunes.

In a desperate bid to equalize, the West Germans launched several attacks.

Morocco was unable to withstand the onslaught, as Uwe Seeler and Muller scored the goals that salvaged the game for Germany.

In Ghandi's opinion, the Atlas Lions would have earned a point if they had substituted Allal Kassou, their injured goalkeeper.

"Our keeper was injured but we did not change him.

"That was a major mistake."

Natural disaster

Events took a strange twist in Morocco's next game against Peru.

"They had an earthquake in their country and the players initially decided to leave the tournament and return home.

"This would have meant that we would have been awarded the match."

But the winds of fortune did not blow the Lions way.

"Our coach gave us a break from training but the Peruvians decided they would play afterall."

The match was a sour experience for Morocco, as they lost 3-0.

Ghandi says they were mentally ill-prepared to face the Peruvians.

"We had a day off from training and lost the psychological edge.

"The team lost focus and were completely thrown off balance."

Legacy

In their final game against Bulgaria, the Atlas Lions forced the eastern Europeans to a 1-1 draw.

Inspite of the team's inability to qualify for the next round, Ghandi is proud of his team's achievements.

"We left our mark in Mexico and we are proud of that."


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