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Morocco 1st African team to reach semis of the World Cup

morocco beats belgium

Before their semi-final match against defending champions France, Morocco manager Walid Regragui embraced the “craziness” of reaching the World Cup final, BBC reports.

After the Atlas Lions’ coach was fired in August, their success in Qatar as the first African team to reach this stage surprised many.

Morocco’s 2-0 win over Belgium in their second Group F match was their first World Cup win since 1998, after failing to qualify for four straight tournaments.

Fourteen of Morocco’s 26-man squad were born abroad, more than any other team at the tournament. An eclectic mix of players from growing migrant communities across Europe helped them break new ground.

Vahid Halilhodzic was fired as coach three months before the finals and replaced by Regragui, who led Wydad Casablanca to the domestic league and African Champions League titles last season.

With Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech coming out of international retirement, the team has improved on the pitch and reduced tensions.

Royal Air Maroc will operate 30 special flights from Casablanca to Doha on Tuesday and Wednesday to bring thousands more Morocco fans to the first Arab World Cup.

20,000–40,000 Moroccan supporters live in Qatar.

Achraf Hakimi kissed his mother after victories, and Sofiane Boufal danced with him on the pitch after beating Portugal in the quarterfinals.

After the knockout rounds, the team performed sujud (prostration) for their fans.

Who will play France at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday (19:00 GMT)? 

Bono the Maldini of Morocco: Defense case

Regragui has conceded just one goal in eight matches, an own goal in the win over Canada.

Right-back Hakimi, 24, has played for Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan, making him the team’s poster boy.

He has had to temper his attacking instincts, but the Paris St-Germain star showed his temperament and talent with his Panenka penalty to win the last-16 shootout against Spain.

Captain Romain Saiss, nicknamed “the Moroccan Maldini” by former Wolves coach Bruno Lage, and West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd have been solid at centre-back, but both are injury doubts for the France match. Jawad El Yamiq and Badr Benoun may start.

El Yamiq, 30, plays for Real Valladolid in Spain after a stint in Italy, and Benoun, 6’3″ tall and nicknamed “Sultan” by his Al Ahly teammates before joining a Qatari club this year, won the African Nations Championship in 2018.

Morocco among top four teams – Regragui
Yahya Attith-Allah, one of three players from Regragui’s old club Wydad, has filled in for Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui, who is injured.

After defeating a tough defense, you must defeat Canadian-born Yassine Bounou, known as Bono.

The 31-year-old was Sevilla’s 2020 Europa League winner and La Liga’s top goalkeeper last season.

After defeating Portugal, Regragui said, “Yassine gives us confidence.”

“When he plays, we’re unstoppable.”

“Where’s that boy from?”

Sofyan Amrabat’s relentless pressing and tough tackling have shielded Morocco’s defence in the run to the last four.

Dutch-born Sofyan, who replaced Nordin in one game at the 2018 finals, has returned to form for Fiorentina this season.

Azzedine Ounahi, one of four players from Sale’s Mohammed VI Academy, plays alongside him in centre midfield. His strong box-to-box displays have attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

“My goodness, where does that boy come from?” asked Spain manager Luis Enrique after their last 16 penalty loss.

He plays like the Spanish. He’s exhausted, he’s still running.”

The technical but rangy 22-year-old from lowly Angers in France made his international debut in January and scored twice in the World Cup play-off win over DR Congo two months later to help Morocco qualify.

Are you calling? “It’s ringing quite a lot,” Angers chairman Said Chabane told France’s RMC of Ounahi’s and Boufal’s interest.

Despite not playing since September due to a contract dispute with Standard Liege, playmaker Selim Amallah, once coveted by former Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, has impressed.

READ MORE: Clinical Mbappe slices Poland, sends France into quarter finals

After just three goals in 70 Premier League appearances during a four-year spell at Southampton that ended in 2020, Boufal, one of two Morocco players born in France (Saiss the other), is back to his best international form at Angers.

He, Zakaria Aboukhlal (Toulouse), Achraf Dari (Brest), Hakimki, and Ounahi play in Ligue 1.

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