Morocco looks back at historic World Cup run with pride

AL KHOR, Qatar — Over the past month, Moroccan fans have made their presence felt at the World Cup. They wrapped themselves in flags in downtown cafes, waved at them on the subway and took them to stadiums that didn’t even involve their team, sitting out games like Portugal-Switzerland and Argentina-Croatia just so they could be part of the World Cup atmosphere. .

On Wednesday, they knew their Cinderella story was coming to an end.

As the final minutes of stoppage time ticked away in Morocco’s 2-0 semi-final loss to France, a throng of red-and-green-clad fans cheered loudly at Al Bayt Stadium and chanted ” Ole, Ole, Ole” and took a look at their team. standing ovation

Highlights France-Morocco

Highlights France-Morocco

France beat Morocco 2-0 to advance to the World Cup final.

The Lions of the Atlas may not have reached the World Cup finals, a far-fetched dream from the start. But it’s his story that history book manager Walid Regragui has talked about so much. It’s a story Moroccan kids will talk about when they answer questions in the future about how they got into soccer. It is the story of a team that did not play for itself, but for the entire continent of Africa.

Morocco’s run in Qatar isn’t over — barring the third-place match against Croatia on Saturday (10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) — regardless of what happens in this contest, it’s been a memorable journey.

“We are disappointed for the Moroccan people tonight,” said Regragui, a new national hero. “We wanted to keep the dream alive. Of course, we’re satisfied with what we’ve achieved, but we think we could have gone even further.

“I told my players I was proud. We made His Majesty proud. The Moroccan people are proud. We showed the values ​​we wanted to show on the football field. We gave a good image of Morocco and African football. We represented our country and our continent. People already respected us, but maybe more now. We have gone as far as we can, but we will have to do even better in the future.”

In this World Cup, Morocco won their group, which included drawing Croatia and beating Belgium. They then beat Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds before battling France in the semi-final.

In the second half especially, the Atlas Lions had chances, however the blue ones the defense was too strong and efficient, especially in the penalty area. Ibrahima Konate slid on the goal line to save a potential goal, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris dived to his right to get on the end of Jawad El Yamiq’s bicycle kick that would have been the goal of this World Cup World if he had entered.

Jawad El Yamiq’s bicycle kick almost goes in

Jawad El Yamiq's bicycle kick almost goes in

The Moroccan Jawad El Yamiq missed the World Cup goal by centimeters.

France set the tone early by scoring in the first five minutes. Antoine Griezmann, who was named player of the match, has centered the ball in the center of the area where Kylian Mbappé was waiting. The best player in the world at the moment took a shot but it bounced off a Moroccan defender and bounced towards French defender Theo Hernandez who was waiting at the back door to fire the ball past goalkeeper Yassine Bounou .

This was the first goal Morocco have allowed against an opponent throughout the tournament (they had an own goal in a 2-1 win against Canada during the group stage).

Morocco had chances in the second half and the intensity of the team had everyone on the edge of their seats. But he couldn’t finish a single chance.

Not to mention the Moroccans were struggling without key players. Defender Romain Saiss sat out the Portugal game with an injury and still started against France, although he came off in the 21st minute. Regragui played a five-man defense so that Saiss, the Morocco captain, did not have to run so much The other star centre-back, Nayef Aguerd, missed the quarter-finals and did not play in the semi-final while recovering from the flu. And Noissair Mazraoui, also hit, went out at half-time.

France held a 1-0 lead for most of the night. In the 79th minute, Mbappé weaved through the Moroccan players in the box like cones and slipped a sweet pass to Randal Kolo Muani who finished at the far post. It was Kolo Muani’s first touch of the game as he was substituted on the pitch in the 78th minute.

“We did everything to get a goal, but we didn’t [score]”, said Regragui. “Despite all the injuries we’ve had and the fatigue, we made all the stops and gave everything on the field. This is quite an achievement. In a World Cup, this was perhaps a step too far. Not in terms of quality or tactics, but physically we fell short tonight. We had too many players who were between 60 and 70% and they have for a few games now.

“Congratulations to France. Now we will support them. Our players gave everything. They really wanted to rewrite the history books. But you can’t win a World Cup with miracles. It has to be done with effort, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. We’re going to keep working.”

The impact of the World Cup race in Morocco

The impact of the World Cup race in Morocco

Alexi Lalas, Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu break down the lasting effect of the Cinderella World Cup in Morocco.

When the final whistle blew, the devastated Moroccan players collapsed on the pitch. Some lay on their backs, hands covering their faces.

World-class defender Achraf Hakimi was comforted by Mbappé, his friend and Paris Saint-Germain teammate, who he was tasked with marking all night. Mbappé, who will play in his second consecutive World Cup final at the age of 23, helped his friend to his feet before the two exchanged shirts.

Throughout this tournament, Regragui has described his team as “hungry” and “ambitious”. French coach Didier Deschamps called them “organised” and “the best defense in this World Cup”. There’s something to be said for that, considering Regragui, 47, became coach two months before the World Cup began.

An inexperienced national team coach, he was instantly loved by his players, journalists and loyal fans. He did his best to make his mark and did so quickly, bringing positivity to his locker room with talk of team spirit and family. He led the Atlas Lions to the semi-final, a stage no African team has ever reached.

Regragui, who was born outside Paris, wrapped himself in a Moroccan flag after the game and greeted his friends, family and fans in the stands.

“They’ll be back,” Regragui said of his team. “The best nations in football always come back. In Africa, we have to prove it regularly if we want Morocco to be on the world football map. We may never be as good as Brazil, France or England, but we want to rank- nos for all matches World Cup.

“Then people will think it’s normal when Morocco reaches this stage of the World Cup. We’ve achieved a lot because we’ve shown Africans that we’re capable of going head-to-head with the best.”

You really need to hold your own and challenge a proven winner like France, the defending World Cup champions, at a stage of the tournament they have experienced before. Although there is now a disappointment for Morocco, the Atlas Lions did what they set out to do.

They changed hearts and minds, made history and brought pride and joy to the African and Arab world.

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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