With overwhelming support, Morocco ‘dare to dream bigger’
Ever since the four semifinalists were decided, the streets and buses and metros in Doha have been occupied by fans mostly from Argentina and Morocco, with a large number of fans shuttling to the Qatari capital over the last few days.
The Royal Air Maroc commissioned 30 special flights from Casablanca to Doha so that the Moroccan fans can experience a once-in-a-lifetime event. The streets and metros of Doha, over the last couple of days, have turned into a stream of Moroccan red, with a spattering of the French Blue here and there. Just like the Albiceleste, the Atlas Lions have found their 12th man in the stands.
Jamal Eddine, a telecom employee from Marrakesh, believes the Atlas Lions can have one over their former colonists.
"We never thought our team would come this far in the World Cup. But every time we won against a big team, our dream has only got bigger. Now we believe we can not only win the semifinal but also win the title as well. Our players are no less than those of any European or South American countries," Jamal said as he was rushing to the training session of the Atlas Lions for a 15-minute glimpse of his team's stars.
Jamal's confidence was shared by Morocco's coach Walid Regragui, who took charge of the national team following the dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic, despite the Bosnian successfully guiding the Northern African country to their fifth World Cup appearance. Regragui, now a celebrity name in Morocco and beyond, united the whole squad and brought out the best in the team, evidenced by their run to the semifinals at the expense of Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
"We are a very ambitious team, we are hungry. But I don't know if it will be enough... it can be. We are confident and are determined to rewrite the history books," the 47-year-old coach said at the pre-match press conference. "I know we are not the favourites, but we are confident. You might say I'm mad but I think a bit of craziness is good."
There is a good reason for Regragui's optimism. This Morocco squad, 14 of whom play in top foreign leagues, have been together for some time. The core of the team includes five or six players who also featured at Russia 2018, not least the likes of Yassine Bounou, Hakim Ziyech, Achraf Hakimi, and Sofyan Amrabat.
While the Atlas Lions have scored only five goals in the tournament so far, they boast the best defensive record, having conceded only one goal, that too an own goal in a group stage match against Canada. There has been some criticism of their defensive block and counter-attacking approach, but the coach implied there would be no change to their tactical approach, "What good is 70% possession if you only get a few shots on goal?"
Morocco were still struggling with "a lot of injuries" said the coach, but players were recovering. There are concerns over the first-choice centre-back pairing of skipper Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd in particular.
Coming into this tournament as rank outsiders, the Atlas Lions have shown that anything is possible if you have unity and you can dare to dream. Tonight the whole of the Arab world and the African continent and many neutrals all across the globe will be hoping that Morocco can extend that dream by slaying the defending champions.