The Cinderella Story ends, but Morocco will be remembered | FIFA World Cup 2022

Morocco were a joy to watch. But all good things must come to an end, and France showed the mettle of champions in the semi-final.

Walid Regragui did not cast a disappointed figure after full-time, instead, he was happy to have taken his underrated team this far in the competition. The expression was more of joy and appreciation for what Morocco had achieved rather than what they lost.

Morocco have become the most talked about team at FIFA World Cup 2022, probably only behind Lionel Messi’s Argentina. A place in the final would have been the stuff of dreams for the Atlas Lions, whose players gave it all on the pitch. But dreams were broken, and they learnt it the hard way, albeit without conceded defeat.

Against France, they were by far the better team in the contest. It is reasonable to give them credit considering no team holds the kind of possession Morocco did against the Les Bleus. Yet, they lacked the sharpness in the final third and were missing the grit of champions Didier Deschamps had instilled in his men.

France are no pushover, and Morocco showed they could be troubled in more ways than one. Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi were the catalysts in the offensive department. At the same time, Sofyan Amrabat, an in-demand midfielder after his exploits at the World Cup, was the lynchpin in their midfield and probably the best midfield player during the tournament.

Yet, Morocco could not find a way past the French defence, largely thanks to Ibrahima Konate and his few timely challenges that kept the scoreline intact. As a result, the Atlas Lions can now reflect on what has been a dream tournament, and they were not in the semi-finals by sheer luck or favourable decisions.

How did Morocco lose against ‘Champions’ France?

France won the 2018 FIFA World Cup through dominant performances and scintillating displays from their star players. However, in Qatar, they have been a different team with changed ideas. Les Bleus are not near their best, but like champions, they find ways to take games by the scruff of their neck and secure wins.

They have had a similar theme in the last few games, and the result against England showcased their ‘Champions Mentality’. France took their chances. And of their three shots on target, two found the back of the net. However, Morocco seemed better on the pitch and dominated the ball throughout the game.

Walid Regragui’s tactics were spot on, but Youssef En-Nesyri did not receive any service until he was removed. In addition, Morocco did not spread the ball throughout the pitch but focused on attacking from France’s left-hand channel to cause problems. Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi were brilliant but certainly lacked the end product.

The record-making Morocco lacked the mentality to go through despite beating some of the biggest teams on the road to a semi-final berth. They beat Portugal, Spain and Belgium soundly but could not pass the hurdle Didier Deschamps and his men set.

Injuries and risk management cost Morocco a historic final

By the 60th-minute mark, it was clear that Morocco were playing a different brand of football compared to their previous games in this tournament. Against Spain, they defended bravely and secured passage via a penalty shootout. They clinically found the net in the match against Portugal and then defended as if their lives depended on it.

Regragui took a visible risk when he named his preferred starting defenders in the lineup against the French. Nayef Aguerd had missed the Portugal clash with a thigh injury, although the manager had insisted it was an illness. At the same time, Romain Saiss’s tournament was visibly over after going off injured at the start of the second half against Portugal.

Both the central defenders started the game. And while Saiss only lasted 20 minutes, the damage was already done. Theo Hernandez’s goal was a minor setback but a major one in the context of their style and game plan. Morocco like to sit back, soak up everything coming their way, and then try to win in their own style, either on the counter or by taking the game overboard.

Yet, in the 60th minute and beyond, it seemed like Morocco were playing a different game chasing the scoreline and could never find the solution. By half-time, they had lost two of their starting defenders. And to sum up the game, their players were at 60-70% in terms of fitness.

Qatar and beyond, the world will remember Morocco

History makers Morocco are the theme of FIFA World Cup 2022. And with the entire Arab and African World behind them, a semi-final finish is not a bad result. However, it is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams that Walid Regragui’s team could come in so deep in the tournament.

It was a great run while it lasted. And as mentioned before, Regragui seemed more proud than disappointed at what they could have achieved further. Unfortunately, fitness wise it was impossible to see them lift the ultimate trophy. But Morocco have tried valiantly to etch their names in the history book.

Moroccans, Africans and probably most of the world will be proud of their achievements in Qatar. They have done the improbable. But like all stories, good or bad, it had to end. In Morocco’s case, the Cinderella-esque tale ended with valour and a brilliant team effort from everyone concerned.

This side will be remembered for years to come and will become the benchmark for future African, Asian and any team in the world that wishes to defy the odds make a mark on the biggest stage. Morocco should be proud of what they achieved, and hopefully, this is not the last time we see such a performance from an underdog team.

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