Morocco makes another World Cup statement despite loss

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Yassine Bounou reached out with everything he had in a desperate attempt to get something, anything, in the way of the ball. There was no benefit.

French substitute Randal Kolo Muani came on just seconds earlier and secured a second consecutive title with his first touch. a final that ended Morocco’s proud struggle once and for all.

France won 2-0 and will face Argentina on Sunday for the championship title.

But it wasn’t until that moment, in the 79th minute of Wednesday’s thrilling semi-final at Al Bayt Stadium, that the two-time champions could breathe easy.

“My players gave everything,” said Morocco coach Walid Reragui. “They went as far as they could go. Now they are difficult to lift. They wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can’t win the World Cup by miracles, you have to work hard, and we will do it, keep working.

The team that delivered the most incredible story of this year’s World Cup got off to a terrible start. Morocco lost two players from their starting line-up and conceded a goal to an opposition player for the first time in the tournament – all in 21 minutes.

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The sea of ​​red shirts in the stands still dominated the atmosphere and outnumbered the remaining France fans even after Theo Hernandez’s fifth-minute goal.

As inspiring as it was for Morocco to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, the fans who cheered them on all the way felt the centerpiece of an unforgettable journey.

The tone was set even before kick-off when the familiar deafening whistles greeted France’s players as they came out for their pre-match warm-up. As the French national anthem played, it got even louder and nearly drowned out the stadium’s public address system.

When the Moroccan national anthem was played, the noise reached a new level.

The theme of the Moroccan run was that anything is possible. Even the prospect of meeting defending champions and superstar forward Kylian Mbappe could not dampen the anticipation.

However, Morocco’s plans were in disarray before the game even started. Center back Nayef Aguerd was withdrawn from the team after the warm-up and replaced by Achraf Dari. Another midfielder and team captain, Romain Saiss, lasted only a little longer. In the 21st minute, he made a substitution: Selim Amallah left the field.

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Both players were unexpectedly included in the Moroccan squad as both were injured.

“We had too many players who scored 60-70 percent. and we’ve already played a few games, but we still made it to the semi-finals,” said Reragui.

With the defense struggling, France managed to take an early lead. Morocco managed four clean sheets in five games in Qatar, but Hernandez fell behind early on. Before that, the team’s defense only missed Aguerd’s own goal in a 2-1 group stage win over Canada.

Things didn’t go so well, but a team that had made it this far against the odds wasn’t ready to give up the chance to become the first country outside of Europe or South America to reach the World Cup finals.

The Moroccans regrouped and had several chances to score, including a spectacular header from Jawad El Yamiq late in the first half.

Morocco have already made history by joining the United States and South Korea as the only teams from two of soccer’s dominant continents to make it this far. It is also the first Arab country to play in the semi-finals.

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The team took first place in the group in which they were in 2018. finalists Croatia and runners-up Belgium, before beating 2010 in the play-offs. champion Spain and Portugal.

Morocco became famous for its strong defense under Rerag. However, after giving up a goal so early, the team needed to push forward and take risks at the back.

And until Kolo Muani’s goal, it still looked like anything was possible.

“For the last 20 years, you can say that France is the best soccer country in the world,” Reragui said. “I am proud because I grew up in France and learned my trade there. Sometimes you criticize French coaches and French football, but they have the best players and the best coaches, the best team in the world.

“If France wins (the final) it would be great because we can say we lost to the world champions.


James Robson is


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