‘Why can’t we dream? If you don’t try to dream you will get nowhere. It doesn’t cost much to dream’ – Ragraghi, Morocco coach
Moroccan players celebrating historic victory by knocking down coach Regagi | Photo: AP
‘LoDo you really think you can win the cup?’ To the Libyan journalist’s question, ‘Why?’ No one expected this arrival of Morocco when Regraghi asked back. That dream is at the doorstep. There are only two hurdles ahead. They have changed history twice so far in this World Cup. History is yet to be written. No matter who is fooled, the team of this World Cup is Morocco.
Weak, they bowed before those who hesitated to pay. The oath of not losing makes them undefeated. There is nothing like this in the history of the World Cup to match this surge and coup by Morocco. A royal welcome for those who were written off in the first round of eliminations.
No one has forgotten Greece who won the Euro in 2004. Greece has never played like that before or since. It was an unbelievable sight for the football world when Greece overthrew the giants and became the European champions. This coming from Morocco is very similar to that. Greece created those miracles under Otto Rahgal by building a defensive wall. Greece ended the campaign that started by defeating Portugal in the first game by defeating the same Portugal as Ronaldo in the final. It was Spain that reached the knockout stage. France in the pre-quarters, the Czechs in the semis, and the Parangis in the finals. All at the same score 1-0. A title won by playing back and hitting one through a counter or a set piece while waiting for the defense to not crack. And so Karagounis and his team wrote a new history.
2002 was a World Cup of similar coup. It was Turkey’s World Cup. Turkey, who was not expected by anyone, returned as third place. Brazil and Turkey even managed to pip Brazil to second place in a group that included Costa Rica and China. They lost to Japan by one goal in the prequarters, Senegal by the same score in the quarters, and Brazil by the same score in the semis. They beat Korea and became third.
When the Moroccan team says after reaching the semi-finals, ‘You still believe, it’s not a miracle’, take it. They conceded only one goal in five games. It was an own goal against Canada. Their arrival is without conceding a goal. The confidence that gave Belgium a 2-0 win in that one. That fighting spirit was a warning to many. Spain, who passed with tiki taka, was crushed in the back of the net without losing a goal even in the shootout. But Portugal. Without Ronaldo, they came with a hat-trick of heroics on the reserve bench. Remember, the Swiss, who are known for their defense, broke the lock and netted six goals. Like Spain, Portugal had 80 percent ball possession. So what happened? A single header, that height, and that’s it for Portugal. Morocco continue their run of coups that started as group champions. The last four have two unbeaten teams in this World Cup so far. Morocco and Croatia. In general, resistance can be seen as a superpower. Will there be a final between them? Argentina and France are not so easily overcome fortresses.
Fans flock to Morocco after every game. The audience cheers. Qatar is now their home ground. Reaching the last four by playing. No more ignoring it. There will be no dance moves, rainbow goals or free kick magic. But they worked. There was no ego. It was total football. It was total defense. There was no liability for superstars. As if strung on the same string. How can they lose when they play with the same mind and rhythm from the goalies to the forwards. The coach often said that we played not to lose. For those who are labeled as weak, not losing is not victory.
‘Live one more day. That was our goal. Losing the first game will end the hopes of the tournament. The goal was not to lose. That is what we have achieved.’This was what Regagi had to say after holding Croatia to a goalless draw.
Coach Reggae, who led Moroccan club Wydad to African League champions, plays like European teams. Everyone was after paper tigers. Morocco’s previous achievement was reaching the pre-quarters in 1986. The time when their golden generation played. In 1986 they also reached the pre-quarters from the group of death. On that day, they tied England and Poland and crushed Portugal 3-1. The Moroccan dream was dashed in the prequarters with West Germany’s Mathews’ 88th minute goal. Then in the first round in 1994 and ’98. Then in 2018, he fell in the first round. The title of the first African country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup is also the title of Morocco’s campaign. Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all failed in the quarters. Morocco did what Roger Milla, Papa Diouf and Assamao Gyan couldn’t.
Despite being an African country, Morocco plays in a European style. Speed is the trump card for Japan and Korea. But height and muscle strength are a challenge. Morocco have both speed on the counter and height for header advantage. Next up is France. France continues where it left off in 2018. A battle between Morocco’s defense and Mbappe’s pace. Morocco and France have yet to meet in major tournaments. They have faced each other five times in friendly matches. First in 1988, France won 2-1. In 1998, the friendly match drew 2-2 and eventually Morocco won the shootout. France won in 1999 and 2000. That included a 5-1 thrashing in one. The last time they played in 2007 was a 2-2 draw.
Those who are used to winning and those who can’t lose face each other in the semi-finals. Why can’t Africa also dream of the World Cup? Ashraf Dari celebrates with the Palestinian flag. Ashraf Hakimi hugs and kisses his mother. Sophien Boufal dances on the field with her mother. The chant of ‘This time for Morocco, this time for Africa’ is ringing again. Moroccan fans chant ‘Seer Seer…’ (Go forward). Nothing to lose. Out of reach…