Morocco compiles historical fairy tale in World Cup 2022

Morocco were drawn into a group that many labeled an underdog at the 2022 World Cup.

The first opponent was Croatia, the runner-up of the 2018 World Cup. At that time, Belgium, with its ‘golden generation’, was a popular choice to drop out of the group. Finally, a hungry Canadian team that topped CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers made its first World Cup appearance in 36 years.

That tournament 36 years ago was a special one. Morocco finished as the winner of a group with three European teams: England, Poland and Portugal. In addition, Morocco became the first African team to top a World Cup group. The Atlas Lions fell to a goal from Lothar Matthäus in the 88th minute to exit the World Cup.

Fast forward to the present, and Morocco was the top performing team in CAF qualification for the 2022 World Cup, winning all six matches played in the second stage. In doing so, Morocco scored 20 and conceded only one.

Administrative change

Then, just three months before the tournament, the team experienced a major turning point. Morocco has fired national coach Vahid Halilhodzic. The Bosnian was notorious for his frosty relations with a number of players. Hakim Ziyech did not play for AFCON 2022. This angered both the fans and the player as Ziyech retired from international competition.

Walid Regragui came on as a replacement for Halilhodzic. Regragui helped Wydad AC win the Botola Pro, Morocco’s top flight. He also led Wydad AC to its third CAF Champions League title. He is only the second Moroccan manager to win the African Champions League.

The return of Chelsea striker Hakim Ziyech from retirement helped ease tensions in the squad.

Morocco illuminates 2022 World Cup

Morocco’s main goal during the 2022 World Cup was to get better than the last tournament in 2018. In a group of Spain, Portugal and Iran, Morocco finished last in the group. However, it forced Spain to draw, only losing 1-0 to Portugal through a Cristiano Ronaldo goal.

Morocco’s campaign started with a goalless draw against Croatia. Before the game, most of them wrote off Morocco. However, the actual game tended towards the African side. Aggressive pressing resulted in eight attempts on goal against Croatia’s six.

On matchday two, Morocco delivered one of the biggest setbacks in World Cup history. It defeated the European giants Belgium 2-0. For the first time since 1998, Morocco won a World Cup match. Still, this was far more impressive than a 3-0 win over Scotland in 1998.

With a 2-1 victory over Canada in the last group stage match, Morocco took first place in Group F. For the first time in 36 years, Morocco was in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Knockout phase

The first opponent in the knockout phase was Spain. La Roja were of course the favourites. Despite Japan’s second place in the group, Spain is always a tough opponent. Luis Enrique’s team dominated possession and created the most chances. However, that was not enough for victory.

After 120 minutes in which neither team had found the net, the match ended in penalties. Thanks to the heroics of Moroccan goalkeeper Bono, Morocco triumphed 3–0 on penalties as they progressed to the quarter-finals.

Another strong European opponent was waiting in the last eight. The Atlas Lions took on Portugal. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics on the sidelines, Portugal posed a different challenge to Spain. Morocco’s excellent positional discipline and a strong line of defense prevented Portugal from making many inventive threats. Morocco won the match thanks to a goal from Youssef En-Nesyri.

As a result, Morocco became the first African country play in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

According to the Moroccan Coach, their journey is the result of the hard work they put into it. Regragui says it’s not just a miracle.

“It’s not about miracles, it’s about the hard work we’ve put in on our journey so far. The World Cup is great for the players. I was hoping to enter the tournament as a player, but fate gave me the chance to return as a coach to become the happiest person on the planet. Earth, now we can dream of winning the World Cup,” said coach Walid Regragui.

History makers

Whatever happens now, Morocco has made history in this tournament by becoming the first African country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Morocco knocked out two European football titans in the knockout stage, prompting manager Walid Regragui to call Morocco the “Rocky of this World Cup”.

In the end France was just too much. Morocco got past the third place team and the second place team from 2018. The champions from four years ago had too much talent with their clinical finish in the semi-finals.

Either way, Morocco could be the first team to finish on the proverbial podium at the World Cup from Africa. A deserved performance after a grueling run to the last four of the tournament.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Agencia MexSport

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Achraf Hakimi,Featured,France,Hakim Ziyech,Morocco,Walid Regragui,WSTWC

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