Football - Moroccans perplexed by tributes, handshakes and AC/DC

MARRAKECH Dec 20 Reuters) - When hard rock group AC/DC recorded Thunderstruck in 1990, they could hardly have imagined that more than 20 years later it would be blasted out to a stadium full of Moroccan football fans.

Yet it has bizarrely been chosen by FIFA as the curtain-raising song at the Club World Cup which is being played in Morocco on its first visit to Africa.

The screeching, ear-piercing vocals echo around the stadium just before the teams come out for the start of every match and again at halftime, drowning out the chanting of local fans.

It is obviously intended to rouse the crowd and might have worked on a foggy day in Gelsenkirchen or Rotterdam, but has caused general bewilderment in Morocco.

Such anomalies are commonplace, however, when the FIFA circus rolls into town and can be especially glaring in developing countries.

Former Brazil forward Romario, a critic of his own country's preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup, has described FIFA as creating a state within a state when they descend on foreign countries. Anyone who goes to a match at the Club World Cup can see his point.

The roads leading to the stadiums in Agadir and Marrakech, the two host cities, are a nightmare of meandering mopeds, donkey carts and speeding SUVs.

Once past the security gates, however, the fan enters of different world, the sanitised FIFA environment of immaculate all-seater stadiums with state-of-the-art facilities.

These include a sound system used to broadcast an endless barrage of messages and Western music, mainly rap, at deafening volumes, starting two hours before kickoff when the stadium is still empty.

The messages include one promoting FIFA's "Handshake for Peace" campaign plus a tribute to Nelson Mandela where fans are requested to stand and applaud the anti-apartheid leader and former South African president who died earlier this month.

VOLCANO ERUPTION

There has been jeering during the Mandela tribute at some games, which has shocked some observers.

However, Moroccan journalists said that it was more a case that the fans, who at domestic matches provide their own pre-match entertainment and automatically jeer anything they do not recognise, did not appreciate what is going on.

"A Moroccan stadium before a match is like a volcano," former Burkina Faso, South Africa, Nigeria and Japan coach Philippe Troussier, who lives in Morocco, told Reuters.

"The pressure builds and builds and builds and just before the kickoff it erupts. To have this ceremony at such a moment is a bit of a risk.

"I think it is a misunderstanding (by the fans) and, frankly, I'm not really shocked that it has happened. If they interrupted a minute's silence, then I would be shocked."

The Agadir and Marrakech stadiums were both built as part of Morocco's unsuccessful bid to stage the 2010 World Cup, although work stopped on the former for several years and it was only completed in October.

Both are situated several kilometres out of the city and have proved challenging to reach as there is no regular public transport to either and matters have been made more complicated on match days because police close off key roads.

Many Moroccans said city centre stadiums created a risk of hooliganism, although event director Karim Alem blamed it on a lack of space.

"In Europe, you have stadiums in the middle of cities but they are old stadiums," he told reporters. "It is not easy for us not find to say five or six hectares in the middle of the town."

The high point of the tournament have been the flag-waving, drum-beating fans of host side Raja Casablanca who have created a fervent atmosphere in the stadiums, propelling their side to Saturday's final against Bayern Munich.

"People think that only Britain or Germany have a fan culture, but here they have discovered another atmosphere," said Troussier. "It is a special atmosphere, it is amazing. Sixty per cent of Raja's performance is coming from this energy."