When you think of the FIFA World Cup, a nation like Morocco doesn’t immediately spring to mind. The north African country has qualified for the sport’s major tournament on four occasions prior to Qatar, failing to get out of the group stages three times and reaching the round of 16 once in Mexico in 1986.
However, they can now say they are at least World Cup quarter-finalists, after the Walid Regrarui-managed side defied the football betting odds to upset European heavyweights Spain in their round of 16 clash at Education City Stadium earlier this month.
Despite not having much possession throughout large chunks of the game, Morocco would oftentimes look dangerous on the counter attack. Similarly, to the Red Fury however, they couldn’t capitalise on any of their chances – and the fixture finished a 0-0 stalemate after 90 minutes. As extra time got underway, it was much of the same – as Spain pressed the action and appeared more likely to break the deadlock.
With that being said, that didn’t mean the Moroccans didn’t have their fair share of opportunities in the final 30 either, as their forward Walid Chedirra provided multiple chances in open space with just one to beat – yet he couldn’t make them count. Morocco’s admirable defensive effort appeared as though it would go in vain on the final kick of the extra time, with Spanish substitute Pablo Sarabia given a golden opportunity to score.
His attempt would ultimately hit the woodwork, ensuring that a quarter-final berth would be decided at the spot. Morocco would go on to win the shootout 3-0 after not one of the Spanish penalty takers managed to register a successful attempt – two of which were saved brilliantly by Morocco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. Conversely, Morocco converted on three of their four attempts, and as a result, they progressed to the quarter-final for the first time in history.
However, it’s not just their upset victory in the knockout stages of this year’s World Cup that has impressed so many people in Qatar – with their exploits in the group stages just as noteworthy. After drawing 0-0 with 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in their opening fixture, Morocco caused one of the upsets of the tournament by defeating world number two ranked side Belgium 2-0.
While many commended their performance, there were others who believed the discontent that existed among players in the Belgian squad was the reason behind Morocco’s historic win. Instead of allowing those who questioned the legitimacy of their win over the Red Devils to bother them – they went out in their third and final group game and reigned supreme against Canada 2-1 – and in doing so – topped Group F.
Morocco are just one of a number of nations at this year’s tournament who have shown that togetherness, unity, grit and determination can take a team very far at a World Cup – something the Atlas Lions’ manager Regrarui alluded to when speaking to the press after their triumph over Spain.
“When you have a heart, energy and love, you win matches,” he said.