The North Africans are looking to continue making history at the World Cup in Qatar

Morocco face the toughest challenge yet

AFP/GLYN KIRK - Morocco's national team at the World Cup in Qatar

The semi-finals of the Qatar 2022 World Cup kick off. France are the current world champions and top favourites, especially after the elimination of five-time champions Brazil, Argentina are looking for their third title and are also in the running, Croatia are the big contenders, who will be trying to get rid of the bad taste in their mouth after losing the final of the previous World Cup in Russia to the French team, and Morocco are the big surprise in this semi-final round.

At the beginning of the competition, nobody expected the Moroccan team to be alive at this stage, but through competitiveness, courage and hard work, the team coached by Walid Regragui has reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, something that no African or Arab country has ever achieved in history.

After qualifying from a tough group with Croatia, Belgium and Canada, the Atlas Lions were able to eliminate Spain in the Round of 16 and Portugal in the quarter-finals against all odds. And now comes the toughest stage yet, the semi-finals, the penultimate stage of the World Cup in Qatar before the final, a match that will pit them against France on Wednesday. France are the reigning world champions, have perhaps the most complete squad of players in the tournament, with an experienced coach who has been in charge of the national team for many years, Didier Deschamps, and with the current best player in the world, Kylian Mbappé, a real physical prodigy, with quality and a great goalscoring ability. 


The challenge is huge for the North African side, who against all odds have reached the match against France and very few expect them to win. But Morocco have managed to break all the predictions by beating all the opponents that have come their way, including teams of substance and hierarchy such as Belgium, Spain, in the penalty shootout, and Portugal. Only Croatia and Spain have been able to hold Morocco to a goalless draw all tournament. In their first group match they drew 0-0 with the Croatians. The rest of their opponents gradually succumbed. Belgium succumbed 0-2, Canada 1-2, Spain on penalties in the Round of 16 after a 0-0 draw and Portugal 1-0 in the recent quarter-final.  

Morocco's great asset is their defensive solidity, having conceded only one goal, conceded against the Canadians and an own goal by Moroccan defender Nayef Aguerd. None of the teams Morocco have faced have managed to breach the goal of Yassine Bounou, who is emerging as one of the national team's key players and a strong bulwark in front of goal. The Moroccan defence has been working perfectly during the tournament, with the contribution of the two first-choice centre-backs Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saiss, who have also been suffering from various muscular and physical ailments due to the titanic effort made in the World Cup so far. Despite these setbacks, they have been well replaced at times by substitute defenders such as Jawad El Yamiq and Achraf Dari. At full-back, Noussair Mazraoui on the left and Achraf Hakimi, the Paris Saint-Germain star who grew up in the Real Madrid youth academy, have been the main protagonists, thanks to their quality and physical display, on the right. Mazraoui has also been struggling with physical problems, but his occasional absence has also been well covered by Yahia Attiyat Allah's work on the left flank.


Achraf Hakimi is the national team's star performer alongside Chelsea attacker Hakim Ziyech. The right-back is their best and most media-friendly player and is one of Morocco's most reliable assets both in attack and defence. In fact, in the match against France, he will face Kylian Mbappé, a team-mate at Paris Saint-Germain.


Up front, we have a very settled midfield where Azzedine Ounahi, Sofyan Amrabat and Selim Amallah all play with work, balance and class. Amrabat and Ounahi are surprisingly at a high level at the World Cup, directing the team's play with class in the middle and imposing physical work, while Amallah is offering an enviable back-and-forth display at this stage of the tournament. 

And up front, the magic, the inside passing and the overflow are provided by Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal on the flanks and the goal scoring so far has been provided by an inspired Youssef En-Nesyri; The Sevilla player has two goals to his name, making him the top scorer for a team that is less potent up front than other teams of higher quality, but which is coping with the task with En-Nesyri himself and the occasional goals from Ziyech, Saiss and substitute striker Zakaria Aboukhlal. 


Ziyech is the team's offensive star, a player who was rescued from ostracism with the arrival of new coach Regragui. He replaced Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, who was sacked shortly before the start of the World Cup after clashes with several players, including Ziyech, who was eventually sidelined.

Walid Regragui's work has been fundamental. His main asset has been to bring the team together as much as possible and to recover all the players for the common cause. You can see the good atmosphere within the team and the commitment that everyone has acquired in order to defend Morocco in the World Cup. And not only Morocco, the Atlas Lions already represent the whole of Africa and the Arab world in this World Cup; a global sport in a universal event that is followed all over the planet, which adds even more epic and responsibility to Morocco as a symbol of African and Arab football that is facing the great footballing superpowers of Europe and America, who were presented as the great dominators of a World Cup that we will see how it ends. 


For the time being, this Tuesday, Argentina-Croatia will be played. Lionel Messi versus Luka Modric, two true stars of world football. The two-time world champions Argentina and the Croatian team, finalists of the last World Cup: a match of the highest order. On Wednesday, the second semi-final with two-time world champions France and Morocco, the surprise package of the World Cup in Qatar, who are looking for the most difficult match yet.