African champions Morocco hope their bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be a turning point for the sport in the continent.
When Morocco made their five-a-side football debut at Rio 2016, they made history – they became the first African nation to compete in the tournament at the Paralympic Games.
In Japan, they have made history once again.
Morocco became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a Paralympic Games’ five-a-side football tournament.
This is in stark contrast to their performance in Rio in 2016, where the Atlas Lions were ranked eighth out of eight teams.
"The big problem in Rio was that it was the first time for our team to participate in the Paralympic Games,” explained Imad Berka. “We had no experience, and the other teams are at a good level.
The marked improvement in Morocco’s performance at the Paralympic Games can be seen by the fact they leave Tokyo with a bronze medal.
"We prepared for this for four years, and then one more year due to Covid. Five years,” added Berka.
We dreamed of a medal, and we now have a medal
“We dreamed of a medal, and we now have a medal, but the problem for our team is no international matches or sparring partners. Only training.
"Our performance in the last world championship (they finished eighth in 2018) was the big motivation for the team to put a big effort in to have a good result at Tokyo 2020."
After losing in the semi-final to Brazil, who have won every gold medal since five-a-side football was introduced into the Paralympic Games programme at Athens 2004, the African champions faced China in the bronze-medal play-off match.
Morocco went on to defeat China 4-0 at the Aomi Urban Sports Park, with all four goals scored by one man - Zouhair Snisla.
"At first, I was scared of the challenge of this match,” said Snisla, “because China is one the best teams in the world. So, to win this match it wasn't that easy."
"I tried my best to score these goals. Scoring four wasn't believable, I can't even believe it."
The historic medal means a lot not only to Morocco but also to the whole African continent.
"For Morocco this is a historic moment. For Africa, it means a lot, this sport is really neglected in Africa and these accomplishments can give lots of belief for African teams to reach these competitions.
"We now hope that the authorities will take care of us, and help us prepare and be ready, and be able to get to these kinds of international competitions."