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



CNN

Morocco lived a World Cup fairy tale like no other.

The Atlas Lions are already the most successful African side in World Cup history – becoming the first nation to reach the last four of the tournament.

To reach the semi-finals, Morocco beat European heavyweights Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

Now the Atlas Lions take on the best Europe has to offer: world champion France.

After Morocco’s loss to 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 ‘Rocky’ you want to support Rocky Balboa and I think we are the ‘Rocky’ of this World Cup,” said Regragui. “I think now the world is with Morocco.”

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

Thousands of Moroccans live in Doha and thousands more have made the short trip across the Middle East to support their nation, creating a relentless uproar with every game.

Following the victory against Portugal, Morocco’s national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) announced that it was offering nearly 30 flights to Doha ahead of the game against France, the official MAP news agency reported on Monday.

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

Add to those fans, the support of Africans and Arabs around the world and the goodwill of a planet looking for the World Cup’s own Rocky Balboa to deliver two more knockouts in this tournament and there’s a growing feeling that France will not play at the Al Bayt stadium in Doha but rather at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca.

The Atlas Lions are also fed from the most unlikely sources; their moms.

After Morocco’s victories against Spain and Portugal, players like Achraf Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal were 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 was present throughout the tournament, a first for Fatima.

“Throughout his entire playing and coaching career, I never traveled to watch him,” she told Moroccan TV channel Arriyadia.

“I have lived in France for more than 50 years now and this is the first competition for which I have left Paris.

If the fans want to see tears of joy instead of sadness after the game then 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, with Morocco losing four times and drawing once.

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

France have been at their best, dispelling any doubts about the 2018 World Cup champion.

Despite missing at least five key players, the French became strong contenders to retain their title after securing a win over England in the quarter-finals.

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

But against England, France showed they had plenty of other threats apart from the Paris Saint-Germain striker.

Antoine Griezmann reinvented himself as a midfielder and was instrumental in the win over England, crossing for another unlikely hero, Giroud, to return home a winner.

Like Griezmann, Giroud has enjoyed a renaissance this World Cup. After failing to score a single goal in 2018 and with the return of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema to the team, it looked at one point that Giroud might never play for France again.

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

And the other French players will have to be at their best as Mbappé not only faces the best right-back in the world, but also his closest friend, Hakimi.

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

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

But no love will be lost when the pair play on Wednesday, something Mbappé said well before the tournament.

In January, while the PSG team were in Doha, Mbappé predicted that he would face his friend.

“France, Tunisia I hope we will win and then we will play against Morocco and I have to destroy my friend [Hakimi]“, he said in a video filmed by BeIN Sports. “It will break my heart a bit, but that’s football. That’s how it is, I have to kill it.

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

Mbappé and company will need to be at their best if they are to overtake this resolute Moroccan side and reach the final.

France vs Morocco: 2 p.m. ET

United States: Fox Sports

United Kingdom: BBC

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

Canada: Bell Media

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