The Atlas Lions of Morocco have not only done themselves and their nation proud with the team’s exploit at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, but the whole of the African continent and Arab nations.
After pulling off upsets such as defeating Belgium and topping group F that also has Croatia with seven points out of a possible nine, they eliminated Spain on penalties to become the fifth African country to reach the world cup quarter-finals after Cameroon (1990); Senegal (2022); Ghana (2010) and Algeria (2014).
The team took it a step further, sending another European powerhouse, Portugal packing, courtesy of a Youssef En-Nesyri 42nd minute header, cementing their “giant-killer” tag, and making history in the process as Africa’s first semifinalist at football’s biggest event. They are yet to lose a game in Qatar.
The midfield duo of Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi have shone like million stars in the Moroccan midfield, dislodging popular names in the battle for the game’s control. Yassine Bounou has been incredible in goal, while Chelsea’s forgotten man, Hakim Ziyech and the rest of the team have all contributed immensely to their success.
Credit must go to the coach as well, Walid Regragrui who has built a formidable and compact side the world is talking about and rooting for, despite taking up the job just three months before the start of the tournament.
Regragui said during a presser: “European Journalists do not like African teams playing like Europeans. In the past, they were seen as teams who played for fun but were not effective. Those days are over. We’re very ambitious and hungry. We want Africa to be top of the world”.
The very loud Moroccan fans whom the coach has described as “the 12th member of the team” have been outstanding with their support. Following the win over Portugal, Royal Air Maroc announced that they have made 30 flights available between Casablanca and Doha to transport more fans to the game against France. With each plane able to carry approximately 200 passengers, one should expect more green and red army in the stands.
While millions of fans across the world, especially in Africa and Arab countries will be praying and hoping that the Moroccan fairytale and historic run continues, it is evident the North African side remains the underdog in this contest against the Kylian Mbappe inspired defending champion of the world.
According to American writer, Mark Twain, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. The question now is, will the fight in the Moroccan team be enough to win the battle of their lives?
With 90 to 120 minutes, and a possible penalty shoot-out in their way, can the Atlas Lions pull yet another upset by overcoming France and securing themselves a shot at the highest footballing glory in the final against Argentina?