Morocco and Tunisia joined Egypt and Saudia Arabia in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Saturday, marking the first time four Arab nations have gone to the finals.
Morocco scored twice within five minutes through Nabil Dirar and Medhi Benatia during the opening half to triumph 2-0 in the Ivory Coast and win Group C.
The “Atlas Lions,” the Moroccan national team’s nickname, are going back to the tournament for the first time since 1998 after finishing with 12 points, having not conceded a goal during the six-match group campaign.
Morocco coach Herve Renard revealed after the match that Moroccan King Mohammed VI had called to congratulate the team.
“I thank His Majesty for calling me. It’s a huge honor,” said the Frenchman. “He wanted to talk to us to pay tribute to everyone. Tonight we are proud of the Moroccan shirt, proud that the Moroccan flag returns to the World Cup. This is the fifth qualification so Morocco is not a small (football) country.”
Tunisia could not break down neighbors Libya in Rades on the outskirts of Tunis and had to settle for a 0-0 draw that was just enough to see them first over the finishing line.
With second-place Democratic Republic of Congo netting twice in stoppage time to defeat Guinea 3-1 in Kinshasa, only one point separated the top two.
Unbeaten Tunisia collected 14 points to book a first World Cup appearance since 2006, DR Congo had 13, Libya four and Guinea three.
Egypt had already qualified in the Africa group, and Saudi Arabia qualified in the Asia group.
Having four Arab countries in the competition represents a significant boost for North African and Middle Eastern soccer, with the previous high of three only occurring in 1986 and 1998.
In addition to the four Arab states, Iran, who qualified as representatives of the Asian Football Confederation, will also be playing in the 2018 competition.
The draw for the finals will take place on December 1, with the intriguing possibility of Iran and Saudi Arabia having to play each other on the field as political tensions escalate between the two nations in the Middle East.