Can Morocco continue the fairytale run?
All eyes will be on the Atlas lions of Morocco when they file out this evening to take on the world champions France in a historic Semi-final match at the world cup in Qatar.
The North Africans have been the surprise package of the tournament, after topping a group that contained world number two team Belgium and 2018 finalist Croatia before going on to knockout Spain and Portugal. In doing so, they have only conceded one goal (a Nayef Aguerd own goal) against Canada, which is a testament of their defensive solidity and discipline, with goalkeeper Yassine Bounou pulling off some brilliant saves as well to complement those in front of him.
When coach Walid Regragui was given the job in August to replace Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, he was given a target of reaching the semifinals of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations, with the World Cup viewed as a bonus. But the man who was born in France has gone on to show how much of tactical mastermind he is by steering this side to unprecedented levels.
A lot of that boils down to his man-management as well. He was instrumental in the return of both Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea and Noussair Mazraoui of Bayern Munich, both of who stopped playing for Morocco under Halilhodzic, and they have been important to the cause of the Atlas lions playing starring roles in their push to the semifinal.
Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat have caught the eye in midfield, bringing in a blend of creativity and combativeness. Not forgetting Achraf Hakimi who has been key in unlocking opposition defenses from the wings alongside Ziyech.
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There is also the enormous support that they have enjoyed in Qatar as well as all over the Arab world and Africa. indeed the Moroccan government are flying in more fans with specially arranged planes to ramp up the support for the team. Although France go into this match as the favourites, having been there and done it before, but if there is anything to learn from this tournament, they will do well not to fall into the trap of underestimating the Atlas Lions.