Morocco are a gift for everyone, let alone Africa | FIFA World Cup 2022

Morocco are writing an incredible story at the FIFA World Cup 2022, and their journey is a result of Walid Regragui’s sheer brilliance.

We are at the stage of a World Cup where nobody is a favourite, and everybody is a favourite. Seeing France among the top four brings no surprises, while Croatia’s presence in the semi-finals is no longer a shocker. A third of the world will remain firmly behind Lionel Messi and Argentina. Meanwhile, Morocco will have the support of an entire continent, and more.

If Morocco win the grand prize on December 18, then the world of football as we know it will change. It will inspire the hundreds of millions who probably thought their country would never make it this far. They have the chance to create a history of the sorts that will become a footnote in history and one of the most talked about sporting accomplishments of our lifetime.

And here we are, inching towards the semi-finals, with Morocco on the cusp of greatness. Walid Regragui’s side have the chance to make history beyond their wildest imagination. Only then will they become free to write history for themselves and probably an entire continent.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s giant leap to score against Portugal took an African nation into a World Cup semi-final for the first time. We all know how agonisingly close Ghana came in 2010 in a game infamous for Luis Suarez and his handball rather than Asamoah Gyan’s spectacular miss.

As for Morocco, the north Africans will remain grounded irrespective of what they have achieved. While their fans are in the mood, Regragui’s men will know the importance of the next game against world champions France. Some might say they have achieved what they could and should take this as an achievement. But Morocco would like to go the distance, which they might.

We will now review how the Moroccans have managed to reach this unprecedented stage of the World Cup. Not only did they beat some of the top teams, but they were also by no means lucky in reaching the final four of the tournament. The Atlas Lions have displayed everything from stout defending to sharpness in the final third.

Low-block defending has a new identity

Low-block defending was often regarded as a weak spot for teams that lacked quality in the final third. For a Premier League watcher, the likes of Burnley will spring to mind when the term gets mentioned. Low-block defending is not just about fighting for your life but also an organised way of stopping teams from scoring.

Big teams failing to unlock a low block has been the theme of this World Cup, and we have plenty of examples where this system has worked. No other manager has managed to organise it better than Walid Regragui, with his consistent approach paying dividends in a big way.

The measures began in the Croatia game, and Morocco maintained the style in the next two games. The win over Belgium proved the players understood the manager’s system and were willing to give it their all. As for their shape, they align in a 4-3-3 that becomes a 4-1-4-1 without the ball.

Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech tend to join the central players and the defensive midfielder to lock the central areas of the pitch. It leaves the backline with all the mopping-up jobs, something they have learned to do with ease. Morocco are winning the ball, contesting duels, and never letting up the sight of their primary objective to reduce Bono’s workload.

The results achieved through this system are by no means a stroke of luck or individual brilliance. The collective has enthralled the audiences and brought about an excitement missed in most African sides of the past. In every sense of the term, Morocco are more than the sum of their parts. The win over Portugal was their sixth clean sheet in the last seven games under coach Regragui and this rigid system.

A side full of characters

As part of any underdog story, the focus shifts slightly towards individuals and their related stories that bring a theme to the journey. The likes of Achraf Hakimi and Bono have had some incredible life experiences growing up in another nation. But they have come together on the pitch with the Moroccan spirit.

Coach Walid Regragui has instilled a level of belief in the players not restricted to mere individuals on the team. The entire Moroccan squad is playing without fear, and each player is ready to perform precisely as demanded when called upon. Most importantly, they are willing to sacrifice their bodies to get the job done.

No player has embodied this spirit better than captain Romain Saiss, who played with heavy strappings against Portugal before finally succumbing to his body’s demands. But the veteran defender has vowed to be fit for the game versus France. In addition, others, like Sofyan Amrabat, have also performed brilliantly despite not being fully fit.

A brief look at their defensive ranks will show that Morocco were missing two of their four key defenders in the backline against Portugal. Additionally, they lost a third player, Saiss, through injury as he was stretchered off early in the second half.

Morocco effectively played the entire second half with their backup defenders, with Hakimi the only remaining member of the original lineup. Yet, they showed no signs of lapses or getting intimidated by the star-studded attackers in the Portuguese ranks.

Can Morocco win the World Cup?

That is not the question one needs to ask. Instead, one should wonder about what impact Morocco will have on the global stage. The Atlas Lions have steadily become a neutral favourite, although nobody expects them to reach the final, considering a depleted side will take on world champions France.

However, looking back at their opponents in this competition is crucial. By far, they have endured a stricter draw than any other team entering the knockout stages barring Japan, who proved exceptional in the four games they featured in.

Morocco got drawn up in the same group as two of the 2018 semi-finalists in Croatia and Belgium. Yet, Morocco overcame the odds with relative calmness. After beating the Red Devils, Regragui’s men began their progressive journey by defeating Canada and topping their group.

The beautiful win over Spain built confidence in the quarter-finals against Portugal. Morocco also managed to overshadow the media attention generally reserved for Cristiano Ronaldo whenever he is on the wrong side in recent times.

As for Morocco’s chances, every team has a strong chance of making it big. Morocco will be a neutral favorite for their experience and performances in this tournament. Still, they have already done more for Africa and the Arab world than anyone else in football history. Lifting the grand prize will certainly matter. Morocco have every chance to bring home the elusive World Cup glory that has never set foot on African soil.

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