The very mention of Morocco brings to mind a tapestry of images ranging from a shade of the alluring blue of Chefchaouen to the iconic 1940s ﬁlm Casablanca. The mixed layers of its African-Arab culture and language besides French colonial history add further gloss to Morocco’s charm. This beguiling assortment took on another jewel — the Atlas Lions’s soaring march in the FIFA World Cup at Doha. Morocco’s dream run, that ended with a 0-2 defeat against France in the semifinal, had all the elements that elevate sport especially the trope of an underdog shredding established hierarchies. Achraf Hakimi’s men topped Group F and made it to the knockouts, a feat previously achieved by his countrymen in the 1986 Mexico edition that was coated with Diego Maradona’s halo. In the current World Cup, Morocco’s giant-killing act deflated Belgium, Spain and Portugal. There were celebrations back home and in Africa, while host Qatar and West Asia saw a kindred Arab spirit coursing through the squad. This duality was acknowledged when midfielder Azzedine Ounahi said: “We have entered into history for Africa and even for the Arabs.” A tight, at times ugly, defence that refused to be breached except for a bruising self-goal lit up Morocco’s path and made opponents wary until the French found a way to stay ahead.
In a championship that is an ode to the genius of Lionel Messi, Morocco’s exemplary performance has proved to be a fairytale. The first African nation to qualify for a World Cup semifinal, Morocco along with Senegal, Japan and South Korea showed that the Afro-Asian combine can offer an alternate narrative to football’s rousing tales centred on South America and Europe. There is also hope nestling within the Moroccan ranks. Hakimi’s mother used to be a help in Spain and his embrace of her after a game was high on gratitude. The belief to succeed against mightier teams was evident through the performances of playmaker Hakim Ziyech, midfielder Sofian Amrabet and custodian Yassine Bounou; the last named was a fortress under the crossbar. Coach Walid Regragui’s troops speaking Darija, Berber, English or French, found a common expression through football and an excited commentator said, ‘impossible is not Moroccan’. It rang true until France walked in with other ideas. Along with Morocco from Group F, Croatia too walked the talk, stunning Brazil in the quarterfinal. It was a result that made the other Latin American behemoth Argentina a bit circumspect in the early part of the semifinal until Messi’s class undid his counterpart Luka Modric’s dreams. Now the third-place tussle beckons Morocco and Croatia.
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