Morocco on the verge of World Cup final but face toughest test in France


Morocco has experienced a World Cup fairytale like no other.

The Atlas Lions are already the most successful African team in World Cup history – becoming the first country to reach the final four of the tournament.

To reach the quarter-finals, Morocco has beaten European heavyweights Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

Now the Atlas Lions face the best Europe has to offer – world champions France.

After Morocco beat Portugal, head coach Walid Regragui compared his team to “Rocky”.

“We have made our people and our continent so happy and proud. When you watch the Rocky movie, you want to root for Rocky Balboa, and I think we are the Rocky of this World Cup,” Regragui said. “I think now the world is with Morocco.”

Morocco has certainly punched above its weight at Qatar 2022, thanks in part to the ’12th man’ in the team’s stands.

Thousands of Moroccans live in Doha, and thousands more have made the short journey across the Middle East to support their nation, making a non-stop noise at every match.

Following Portugal’s win, Morocco’s national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) said it would offer nearly 30 flights to Doha ahead of the match against France, state news agency MAP reported on Monday.

Walide Regragui entered Morocco's national team in August after winning the African Champions League with Wydad Casablanca.

Add to these fans the support of Africans and Arabs from around the world and the goodwill of the planet looking for the World Cup’s very own Rocky Balboa to throw two more knockout punches in this tournament, and there is a growing sense that France will not play. At the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, but rather at the Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca.

Atlas Lions are also powered by perhaps the most unlikely of sources; their mother.

After both of Morocco’s victories against Spain and Portugal, players such as Achraf Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal have been photographed kissing or dancing with their mothers.

Their presence followed Regragui’s decision to invite the players’ families to stay with the team in Doha. Regragui’s own mother has been involved throughout the tournament, for the first time in Fatima.

“Throughout his career as a player and coach, I never traveled to see him,” he told Moroccan broadcaster Arriyadia.

“I’ve lived in France for over 50 years and this is the first competition I left Paris for.”

If the fans want to see tears of joy instead of sadness after the game, Morocco will have to do something they have never done before and beat France.

Despite the close ties between the nations, Morocco and France have only played five times, Morocco lost four times and drew once.

Olivier Giroud overtook Thierry Henry as France's all-time top goalscorer.

France has been menacingly at its best and dispelled all doubts about the 2018 World Cup champion.

Despite missing at least five key players, the French have emerged as strong contenders to retain their title after beating England in the quarter-finals.

Kylian Mbappé has once again been the star of the series, and the tournament’s top scorer has underlined his position as the heir to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world.

But against England, France showed they have plenty of other threats alongside the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

Antoine Griezmann has reinvented himself as a midfielder and helped the win against England as another unlikely hero, Giroud, headed home the winner.

Like Griezmann, Giroud has had a renaissance this World Cup. After failing to score a single goal in 2018 and with Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema returning to the team, it looked as if Giroud might never play for the French national team again.

Since then, he has scored four goals at the World Cup – just one behind Mbappé – to become France’s all-time top scorer.

And the rest of France’s players will have to be at their best when Mbappé faces not only the best right-back in the world, but also his closest friend Hakim.

Hakim and Mbappé have become close friends since the Moroccan moved to the French capital last year.

The pair play together at PSG and have become inseparable over the past year, making Hakim the perfect candidate to stop his mercurial friend.

However, there will be no love lost when the pair play on Wednesday, something Mbappé said long before the tournament.

In January, when the PSG team was in Doha, Mbappé predicted that he would play his friend.

“France, Tunisia I hope we win and after that we play Morocco and I have to destroy my friend [Hakimi]”, he said in a video shot by BeIN Sports. – It breaks my heart a little, but that’s football. It is what it is, I have to kill him.”

Hakimi responded by saying, “I have to kick him.”

Mbappé and company will need to be at their ruthless best if they are to get past this determined Moroccan side and reach the final.

France vs. Morocco: 2 p.m. ET

USA: Fox Sports

Great Britain: BBC

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

Canada: Bell Media


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