from HUSSEIN HUSSAIN in Doha, Qatar
DOHA – ARRIVING in Qatar on the back of turmoil, to exiting as world beaters, Morocco’s outing at this FIFA World Cup will go down the annals of history among the most phenomenal episodes in sport.
The North Africans’ outing at the tournament ended with defeat (2-1) to Croatia on Saturday in the third-place playoff at the Khalifa International but they bow out as victors.
Achraf Dari netted the consolation for the Atlas Lions. It was sandwiched between goals by Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic for the bronze-winning Croatia’s Checkered Ones.
Morocco might have lost that encounter but they had already won the hearts of millions globally following their exploits that defied their being written off even before the start of this World Cup.
“Thank you for giving it all. Thank you for making us proud. Thank you for making history,” stated the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF).
FRMF hailed the team as heroes.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) sung Morocco’s praises.
“They dared to dream and they absolutely delivered,” stated CAF.
The continental mother body is celebrating the best finish by an African side in the 92-year-old competition.
That Morocco had Belgium and Croatia as well as Canada in their Group, plus the fact that African sides have largely been whipping boys at this tournament, had the odds stacked against coach Walid Regragui and his side.
Headed to the first tournament on Arabian soil, Morocco were undoubtedly the least prepared of the 32 teams.
This after a multidimensional fallout.
One was between the coach Vahid Halilhodzic and some players. Another was between the coach and the football federation. The clumsy turn of events left Moroccans despondent.
Three months before the tournament, the side’s preparations were thrown into further disarray after the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) announced the sacking of the Bosnian Halilhodzic.
In his place came former rightback, Walid Regragui, then an unpopular choice.
Forecast to capitulate at Qatar, the Atlas Lions have written the story of the tournament and etched their name into sporting folklore.
They emerged the first African side to reach the Last Four, and had they taken their chances against a French side they dominated, they would have been contesting the decider set for Sunday.
Argentina and France will contest.
While teamwork is key to success, some individuals have put in solid performances that have put them in good stead for selection into the Team of the Tournament.
The tireless Sofyan Amrabat has been hailed the best midfielder of the tournament. Goalkeeper Yassine “Bono” has provided the safest pair of hands. Achraf Hakimi Mouh has been phenomenal at fullback.
Attacking midfielder, Azzedine Ounahi, has dazzled in Qatar.
At the conclusion of Morocco’s campaign, Regragui, told media the priority was on the next Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Ivory Coast.
Morocco has won the 65-year-old tournament only once, in 1976.
“We can’t be kings of the world before being kings of our continent,” Regragui told the media, post-match.
A rapturous welcome awaits his Atlas Lions back home.
– CAJ News