Morocco’s inspirational World Cup run has put the powers that be on notice


Al Khor, Qatar — At the final whistle, Morocco Coach Walid Regragui adopted his opposite number, France boss Didier Deschamps, who had just guided les blues Second consecutive World Cup final. Regargui assembled his group of injured and spent players after Wednesday lost 2-0 in a huddle in the middle of the pitch and, after a brief speech, directed them to the stands behind one of the goals, blood-red with jerseys and heavy Moroccan-supporter flags – but not necessarily Moroccan – masses. flood.

Almost as one, he bowed to his supporters. After a performance, Al Bayt is seen kissing the ground of the stadium, not like a concert pianist, but bowing his head on all fours. It felt serious. It felt real. And the crowd roared in approval. Not even the stadium DJs could spoil the moment as they blasted the gala’s “Freed From Desire” and segued into a terrifying version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

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You might think that his run in the World Cup was over. Technically, you’d be right – although they play the third-place consolation match against Croatia on Saturday. Emotionally you would be wrong. Because this feeling does not end here. It felt more like a debut. And it’s not just about Morocco, it’s about the beginning of a world order. Or maybe just hope, a stretch, that the perennial blue bloods who have dominated the sport for nearly a century might leave room for someone else.

It was much more than an underdog story, more than just neutrals rooting against the favourites, be it France, portugal either spain, The rest of the world was rallying behind them. Morocco became the first African team, the first Arab team, the second team from a predominantly Muslim nation (later turkey in 2002) to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.

The sport was invented in Britain some 160 years ago and has since been exported to every corner of the globe, with a handful of countries dominating at least the largest stage. Only eight countries have won the World Cup from two continents and this time it will not change, France and Argentina Sunday’s finals. But that supremacy is eroding.

Overall, of the 88 teams that have reached the semi-finals in the 22 editions of the World Cup, only three were from outside Europe or South America. there was one United States of america (yes, really), at the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. there was another South Korea in 2002, where he served as co-host Japan,

And now there’s Morocco. During the tournament he ignited the passion of a region – several regions in fact, a function of his Arab-African-Muslim identity – and he did it in the most straight-forward and honest way possible: by playing good football, often in extreme conditions. , Often burdened by injuries, always with passion.

Regargui knew which buttons to press. he named the centre-back Naif Aguird in the starting lineup entrusted to FIFA, knowing there was no way to take the pitch, only to have it replaced just before kickoff. In the group stage, Morocco’s flamboyant defender Egurd came off injured during the victory over Spain, but it seemed like a symbolic gesture. Aguerd’s defensive partner, Romain Saiswas also injured, but gritted his teeth, started, and played for twenty minutes in what felt like football’s answer to the flamboyant presence of Willis Reid new York Knicks In Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals,

Regargui’s mastery at squeezing the most out of his group of players was crucial to the run. They did it with symbols (as mentioned above), psychology (inviting not only the players’ wives and girlfriends, but their mothers and fathers to camp) and a heck of a lot of tactical mind.

The Moroccan’s medium-block defensive intensity and counterattacking prowess – not only breaking with raw pace, but also with passing and accuracy – allowed him to compete with more talented sides. His bloody mentality and some phenomenal individual performances – goalkeeper yassin bounousass, fullback Achraf Hakimi and midfield pair sofian amarbat And azzdeen aunahi All are Team-of-the-Tournament contenders — pushed them over the edge.

Much has been made about the Moroccan diaspora and fourteen of Rgaragui’s 26-man squad were born outside the country and received their football education abroad: four each in Belgium and the Netherlands, two each in Spain and France, Canada One in Italy and one in Canada. It is part of the story and part of the reality of football and the modern day pattern of migration. But it is not as if Morocco only selected a bunch of players with dual nationality. The bond with their ancestors and culture is strong. And his rise to the national side was no accident.

In 2009, the Moroccan FA opened the Mohammed VI Football Academy, its own version of Clairefontaine in France or St George’s Park in England, i.e., a state-of-the-art national training center to develop the next generation of footballers domestically and, at the same time, facilities A way to demonstrate that was in no way inferior to wealthier football playing nations. The effect was twofold. This enticed talented players of Moroccan descent to choose the country of their parents and grandparents. And it inspired further investment in the sport domestically.

Morocco won the most recent African Nations Championship – a continental competition reserved for footballers playing in Africa, as opposed to the more prominent Africa Cup of Nations tournament in which most players ply their trade overseas. In addition, Moroccan clubs compete in Africa’s CAF Champions League (al vidad) and the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup (RS Barkane, In other words, this success is not built on sand. The seeds have been sown. The routes have been drawn. Europe and South America may have the same historical heritage and know-how, but the gap is narrowing.

“You can’t win a World Cup with miracles,” Regargui said after Wednesday’s match. “You need to do it through hard work and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep working.”

Maybe it’s still a gap. The World Cup may remain an eight-member winners’ club for the next few decades. Maybe, like Pele’s often mocked prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by 2000, it’s just wishful thinking somewhere between a flight of fancy and folly.

But in the past few weeks, that dream has become a reality. The idea of ​​possibility became tangible. And this shows that the wheels are in motion. They are building it. And it will come.

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