The argument for the underdog: why Morocco could win the World Cup
Morocco made history before even a ball was kicked in the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup. (opens in new tab)
The Atlas Lions’ stunning win over Portugal in the quarter-finals saw them become the first African nation to reach the last four at a World Cup – a feat that has come completely unexpected.
Manager Walid Regragui was only appointed in September, but he has yet to taste defeat in eight games and doesn’t see why he should start now.
He said: “Earlier in the tournament I was asked if we can win the World Cup – why not? Why shouldn’t we dream?”
“If you don’t dream you won’t get anywhere, and dreams don’t cost anything. European teams are used to winning the World Cup. Now we have to get in there and rise above ourselves.”
Can they do it? Here is FFTs argument for a stunning underdog victory in Qatar.
Their defense is excellent
Morocco have only conceded one goal at the World Cup in open play – and that was an own goal.
Their four-man defence, supported by goalkeeper Bono and screened by defensive midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, was excellent throughout the tournament.
No other team can match their record of four clean sheets in five games, and the final game against Portugal was achieved without half of their first-choice squad, with Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui missing through injury.
Those two have since been joined by centre-back Romain Saiss on the treatment table, but the defensive structure and organization Regragui has put in place will mean France will struggle to find their way past Bono in Qatar as the first team.
Should Morocco keep another clean sheet, history is on their side: the only teams to have previously registered five shutouts in a single World Cup won the World Cup, Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010.
They are relentless in attack
Morocco has been as clinical in attack as they have been in defence.
Players like Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal and Azzedine Ounahi have made an impact going forward for Regragui’s squad, who were xG busters in Qatar.
The Atlas Lions have had a lower xG than their opponents in all five of their World Cup matches, but have recorded four wins (one after extra time) and one draw.
In short, the men of Regragui have a great chance.
Matches won on xG at the World Cup:🇦🇷 Argentina: 5/5🇫🇷 France: 2/5🇭🇷 Croatia: 2/5🇲🇦 Morocco: 0/5December 11, 2022
They are Rocky Balboas
Morocco’s underdog exploits have made them the darlings of the neutrals at this World Cup, but they also have huge support as representatives of the African continent and the Arab world.
Their games have created one of the loudest, most exciting atmospheres of the tournament, and the energy they’re sure to get from the Qatari crowd will make their remaining games feel like home games.
As Regragui put it, “When you watch Rocky Balboa, you want to support him – and we are the Rocky of this World Cup.”
They beat European giants for fun
A semi-final showdown with defending champions France, led by tournament top scorer Kylian Mbappé, is a daunting prospect.
Les Blues have been here before and have done it before, and they will go into the semis as heavy favorites because of that experience and their superiority on paper.
But the same was said for Belgium, Spain and Portugal before them. All three of those European heavyweights fancied their chances against the supposedly inferior Moroccans, and all three came away defeated.
The only major European nation to go away without defeat was fellow semi-finalists Croatia, but even they could only take a 0-0 draw from their opening group stage fixture against the Atlas Lions.
Morocco will not be afraid to take on a European giant as they beat them in Qatar for fun.
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