Morocco seek to extend Africa’s fairy-tale to final

Morocco seek to extend Africa’s fairy-tale to final

• Kingdom provides nine free planes for fans

Morocco, which have become the neutral fans’ favourite to win the Qatar 2022 World Cup, will, today, bid to continue their unexpected march to football heaven when they meet defending champions, France, in the second semifinal of the competition.

Unknown to many and unrated by top pundits before the competition began on December 20, the Atlas Lions have won, through their performances against Spain and Portugal, the hearts of neutral fans at this Copa du Mundo.

The world’s 22nd-ranked team have travelled deeper into this competition than any African or Arab nation has done before. Now, they are two wins away from lifting a football World Cup trophy.

The Atlas Lions are yet to be beaten at this year’s tournament and they have conceded just once – an own-goal against Canada in the group stages.

Among the list of casualties are Belgium, which finished as the third best team at the last World Cup in Russia four years ago; 2010 champions, Spain and 2016 European champions, Portugal. They drew with 2018 finalists, Croatia, in the group stage.

And today, they will battle with reigning champions, France, who are among the best-rated teams still standing.

If they manage to overcome France, coach Walid Regragui’s side will be just a step away from joining a select group of countries to win the World Cup.

Since the inception of the World Cup in the 1930s, only eight countries have won the competition. These include Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Italy, Germany, France, England and Spain.

Optimism is surging through Regragui’s team that they can join this elite group.

Regragui has assured that Morocco will adopt the same tactics against France as they have throughout the tournament.

Defence has been one of Morocco’s strongest points with the Atlas Lions conceding just one goal in five matches.

They will meet a France looking to become the World Cup’s first back-to-champions since Brazil in 1962.

In speedster, Mbappe, France has a striker capable of unlocking any defence at the World Cup. His five goals make him the tournament’s leading scorer. Apart from Mbappe, there are also the dangerous Oliver Giroud, whose head is the most dangerous among the strikers at the competition. And then, France also has Antoine Griezmann, a veteran that has added midfield artistry to his armoury.

Despite the threat posed by France, Regragui is confident his players will not only reach Sunday’s final, but also have enough quality to win it.

“In one press conference three or four matches ago, I was asked if we could win the World Cup. And I said, ‘Why not?’ We can dream. Why shouldn’t we dream? If you don’t dream, you don’t get anywhere,” Regragui said after his team’s victory over Portugal.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams. European countries have been used to winning the World Cup,” he added, describing his side as the “Rocky Balboa” of this year’s tournament.

While Moroccan players are sweating to bring glory to their country, the kingdom has provided nine free planes to ferry fans to support the team.

Tens of thousands of supporters have arrived in Qatar ahead of the Atlas Lions’ last-16 clash and again before the quarterfinal.

According to Aljazeera, they created a raucous atmosphere during the matches and today’s clash at the Al Bayt Stadium is expected to feel like a home match for the North African side.

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