WORLD CUP: Morocco’s Atlas Lions in another historic hunt


Morocco forward Youssef En-Nesyri is expected to spearhead today's goalscoring against France. Photo by Patricia De Melo Moreira, AFP

from HUSSEIN HUSSAIN in Doha, Qatar
Special Correspondent
DOHA, (CAJ News) – IN this beautiful game that is fascinated by the underdog, Morocco undoubtedly is most neutrals’ pick to come out tops in this historic semifinal encounter against defending champions, France.

Top dogs France and the Atlas Lions will contest the clash at the Al Bayt arena in the region of Al Khor on Wednesday.

It is the latest episode of what has been a riveting World Cup tournament in Qatar.

Defensive doggedness, a hallmark of Morocco in this tournament, will be up against a scintillating French strike force in this encounter, with a match against Argentina in the final on Sunday the reward.

The losing semi finalist will play Croatia for the bronze medal on Saturday. An Argentinean side agitating for their first title since 1986 put the Croatians to the sword on Tuesday in a 3-0 avenging win.

For Morocco, whatever the outcome against the French on Wednesday, the North Africans will emerge winners. They already have, after exceeding expectations.

These history makers have won the hearts of millions worldwide during their miraculous run to the Last Four, the only African side to reach this stage of the 92-year-old tournament.

Between 1990 and 2010, Africa has seemingly been content with reaching the quarterfinals, so Morocco has raised the bar in Qatar and can even raise it further.

The fact that the pressure is off might be Morocco’s trump card against a side eager to become the first to retain the title after Brazil (1958 and 1962).

With injuries a concern, a change in defence personnel is expected but the determination in coach Walid Regragui’s side is unchanged.

“If you don’t give 100-percent, it’s impossible to win but with these fans, these players, with the spirit, we can do the best performance,” Regragui said in the pre-match conference.

Nayef Aguerd, Noussair Mazraoui and captain Romain Saiss are the major injury concerns for the clash against the two-time champions, Les Bleus.

An enticing matchup between France top gun, Kylian Mbappe, leading scorer in the tournament (five goals), and his Paris Saint-Germain teammate and Morocco quarterfinal hero, Achraf Hakimi, is something to look forward to at Al Bayt.

Friendships will be put aside.

Morocco can meanwhile count on its defensive abilities despite its injury worries.

They are the only team in Qatar yet to concede to an opposition player.

Aguerd is the only player to beat Yassine “Bono” Bounou. The own-goal came in the final Group match against an already-eliminated Canada.

Remarkably, the clean sheets have been attained as Morocco came up against some fearsome attacking outfits including Belgium, Croatia, Portugal and Spain.

Perhaps that is a good omen for the Moroccans as, like France, the above are European opposition.

– CAJ News

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