World Cup Semi-Finals, Atlas Lion Exploration – ANTARA News Mataram

Doha (ANTARA) – When Achraf Hakimi performed the Panenka style to lead Morocco to a 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain in the Round of 16, he and his teammates set a historic record.

It was Morocco’s first time reaching the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup, which was further enhanced by Youssef En-Nesyri’s header in a 1-0 win over Portugal.

Previous World Cup quarter-finals were the kingdom of the middle of nowhere for the Atlas Lions, but their quest continued through to the semi-finals and handler Walid Reragugui greeted them with great trust.

“At the press conference, maybe 3-4 matches ago, I was asked, ‘is it possible for us (Morocco, editor’s note) to win the World Cup?’ I said: ‘Why not?'” Reragugui told a press conference after Morocco’s victory over Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar on Saturday (10/12).

“The dream is free, and nobody will give it to us. Not even the big European countries, because they want only one of them to win the World Cup,” he added.

Reragui’s words can appear as arrogance, euphoria or a way of encouraging oneself, depending on the angle from which one looks at him.

But what is clear, what Morocco has achieved in Qatar so far is a historic achievement in a country on the northern coast of the African continent and Reragugui clearly has a big part in it all.

Not a miracle

Reragugui took over as Morocco coach at the end of August, just three months before the start of the 2022 World Cup, following the dismissal of his predecessor Valid Halilhodzic.

Morocco’s football federation, FRMF, said differences in outlook were the basis for the decision to fire Halilhodzic. But local media reported that the relationship between FRMF and Halilhodzic was strained due to the poor results of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, where Morocco were stopped in the quarter-finals.

That tension has been tense since Halilhodzic took decisive action to isolate Hakim Ziyech, accusing the Chelsea winger of faking an injury to avoid being called up to play for Morocco.

When Morocco were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Ziyech wasn’t even included in the Atlas Lions squad. Who would have thought, the FRMF’s choice to fire Halilhodzic and replace him with Reragugui could bear fruit, at least during his mandate, which is now entering its fourth month.

Reragugui arrives with a promising reputation having guided Qatari club Al Duhail to the national league title in 2019-20 and then led Moroccan side Wydad AC to win the 2021-22 African Champions League.

Read also : Ronaldo backs France to win the World Cup

Arrived on the coach’s bench of Morocco, the coach nicknamed “the Guardiola of Morocco” made his debut with a 2-0 friendly victory against Chile in September during which Ziyech was back in the jersey of the Lions of the ‘Atlas.

Since then, Reragugui didn’t suffer defeat with Morocco until they reached the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

In fact, Morocco entered a relatively tough group at the 2022 World Cup. They are in Group F along with Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Croatia arrived in Qatar as 2018 World Cup runners-up. Belgium topped the FIFA rankings from mid-2018 to March 2022. Canada have big ambitions as for the first time in 36 years they returned to the World Cup Finals.

However, none of the three countries was able to secure a victory over Morocco. Croatia got just a goalless draw, Belgium were stunned losing 0-2 and Morocco ruined Canada’s all-important meeting with a 2-1 win.

Morocco emerged victorious from Group F with seven points, ahead of Croatia (5), Belgium (4) and Canada (0), a result which boosted the confidence of Achraf Hakimi and others facing the round of 16.

In the Round of 16, Morocco successfully put up a tough fight for Spain, a side that were once favorites as they blasted Costa Rica’s seven unanswered goals in the group stage.

Read also : Score, stats and head-to-head predictions: Argentina vs Croatia

However, Spain did not dampen Morocco’s glory and great momentum either. On penalties, none of their three executioners, namely Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets, could score a goal, even goalkeeper Yassine Bono managed to counter the executions of the last two names.

After eliminating Spain, Morocco again met their other neighbors in the Mediterranean region, namely Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Participation in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup has become a historic record for Morocco, which is following this stage for the first time.

However, a big jump from En-Nesyri saw it past goalkeeper Diogo Silva to turn Yahia Attiyat Allah’s cross ball into the Portuguese goal. The jump that seemed to impress superstar Cristiano Ronaldo from the bench.

Reragui dismissed the idea that victory over Portugal or moving Morocco to the semi-finals was a miracle. For him, all this was the fruit of the hard work of Moroccan players.

“Today the players proved themselves, and as I said, it’s not a miracle. Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal, we didn’t concede a single goal against them. It’s not a miracle, it’s the fruit of hard work,” said Reragugui.

The former defender who defended Morocco 45 times also believes that with the win over Portugal, his side are now almost everyone’s favorites in Qatar. He even compared Morocco to the Rocky Balboa of the 2022 World Cup, referring to the character played by Silvester Stallone as the protagonist of the movie sequel “Rocky”.

“You know what, when you look at Rocky Balboa you want to support him because he works hard. And we are the Rocky Balboas of this World Cup,” Reragugui said.

During his career on the pitch, Reragugui never presented a trophy for Morocco. The furthest he got was the runners-up medal at the 2004 Africa Cup. Now, 18 years later, Reragugui has the opportunity to achieve something much brighter.

Everything is possible

Morocco will face France in the semi-final of the 2022 World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor on Wednesday (14/12) tomorrow. On paper, France are clearly superior due to their status as reigning World Cup champions. But like Belgium, Spain and Portugal, France cannot take Morocco lightly.

Since the 2022 World Cup, Morocco has arguably become one of Qatar’s second three host countries along with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. The proximity of the place means that many supporters of the three countries always crowd the stands at each match in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

In fact, considering how calm the atmosphere was during the Qatar match, which was full of spectators but almost the whole stadium was busier sitting quietly as if watching a classical music concert, it seems appropriate to say that Morocco are now the main team. host the 2022 World Cup.

Moreover, one by one the spectators who consider Arab and African feelings, will support Morocco, just like most football connoisseurs who like to see underdogs talk a lot in a tournament.

As Reragugui said, everything is possible and dreaming is something that should not be subject to tariffs or free, Morocco has the right to dream of defeating France and reaching the final of the 2022 World Cup if the universe supports it Wednesday (12/14) tomorrow night.

For Bono, who in the match against Portugal again played a heroic game by countering Ronaldo’s kick with the aim of equalizing, apart from the semi-finals, the chance to reach the final and so on , Morocco’s feat has its own meaning.

“We changed the mentality and taught the next generation that Moroccan players can do all this,” Bono said after the win over Portugal.

What Morocco achieved seemed to be in line with the advice Reragugui passed on to his team that he didn’t want the Atlas Lions to only prepare for three games.

“I always tell the players that we have quality, with the presence of those who play at a high level like Ziyech at Chelsea, (Noussair) Mazraoui at Bayern Munich, Hakimi at PSG, Bono and En-Nesyri at Sevilla. To be honest, we have a team that can win the World Cup,” he said.

Of course, Reragui and Morocco will find out whether the words were a form of arrogance, euphoria or an injection of encouragement after the dispersal whistle at Al Bayt tomorrow night.

But, regardless, the Atlas Lion embarked on a historic foray into nowhere at the 2022 World Cup and it’s only natural for us to enjoy Morocco’s trip as much as watching exploits on the big screen. No hope, no regrets.

Madeline Weber

"Amateur problem solver. Hipster-friendly alcohol lover. Beer buff. Infuriatingly humble tv geek."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *