World Cup: Everybody loved Morocco because we proved critics wrong, says fan

The North Africans controlled the midfield, showed exquisite touches in the final third and pushed France deep into their own half in the semi-final clash

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

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Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty
Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Thu 15 Dec 2022, 9:24 PM

Like millions of Moroccans around the world, Jalil was also following every moment of his team’s incredible World Cup run in Qatar.

But after the Atlas Lions overcame Spain on penalties in the round of 16, having already stunned Belgium in the group stages, Jalil could no longer keep his emotions in check.

This British-Moroccan booked a flight ticket from London to Doha and then got the match ticket for Morocco’s quarter-final clash against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

“I came here at the last minute because I thought how many times in my life I am going to see Morocco in this late stage of the World Cup,” he said.

“Probably never! So I thought ‘whatever, I took the flight the next day and witnessed the Portugal match. It was an incredible experience. And then I saw how our boys put up a big fight against the French in the semifinal.”

When this reporter met Jalil at Al Bayt Stadium after Morocco’s dream run came to an end in the semi-final against a star-studded French team, he looked content.

There was no hint of frustration on his face despite Morocco failing to take their chances against France after enjoying the lion’s share of possession.

Morocco’s stirring run to the semi-final came on the back of their resolute defensive skills.

But after France scored an early goal, Morocco were forced to change their style in the middle of a World Cup semi-final.

The North Africans did that with some style, controlling the midfield, showing exquisite touches in the final third and pushing France deep into their own half.

It was something that no other team had been able to do against a team as strong as France in this World Cup.

Morocco eventually lost the battle due to their opponents’ superior finishing skills and their own lack of confidence in the rival box.

“We were a little bit unlucky because maybe we lacked the finishing skills. That’s not something we are good at. We are good at every other level. Technically, defensively, the midfield is also very solid. But they have to be able to penetrate when the attack is good. So the lack of finishing touch is what cost us the game,” Jalil admitted.

“Also, the early goal that France scored, it set the tone for the match. But I think we did all we have to do. If we had managed to score one goal in the middle of the game, it would have changed the dynamics of the game.

“But it’s impossible to win all the time. So overall, we are quite happy with all that happened with a very slight regret of not being able to score one goal in the game against France.”

Regardless of the result in Saturday’s third-place match against Croatia, Jalil hopes Moroccan players would be in demand in the European club transfer market following their admirable performance in Qatar.

“We have a lot of young players aged between 21 and 25. They actually don’t play in huge clubs, expect for a few like Achraf Hakimi who had been in Inter Milan and Real Madrid. He is now at PSG,” jail said.

“Hakim Ziyech, who was in Ajax before, now plays for Chelsea. Hope more big clubs like AC Milan, Manchester City, Manchester United will come for our players now after this World Cup performance.

“It is important for our players to play for big clubs, the experience is very important. It will help them take the next step in their career and it will also help the national team.”

Meanwhile, Nabil, who flew from Spain for Morocco’s semifinal against France, says all African and Arab football teams now will be inspired by Morocco.

“It’s already an inspiration, not just for Morocco, but for Africa and all the Arab countries. I hope in the next World Cup more African and Arab teams will reach the late stages,” he said.

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“Morocco reaching the semifinals of a World Cup, it means everything to me. That’s why I came from Spain in the last minute.”

Jalil then said why the Moroccan story appealed to every neutral fan in this World Cup.

“I think people normally like to support the underdogs. But this time it was not any underdog, but it was an underdog which consistently proved that they can actually beat great teams,” he said.

“I mean you just cannot beat Belgium, and then Spain and Portugal by being lucky. They consistently proved the critics wrong. I am just incredibly proud of our team.”


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