Morocco – Africa’s history-makers are far from a World Cup fluke, and they’re not done yet

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Morocco will battle Portugal for a place in the World Cup semi-finals

When Achraf Hakimi had the audacity to Panenka Morocco into the quarter-finals of the World Cup he helped them make history once again – but their story isn’t finished.

This tournament has seen the Atlas Lions become the first North African team to reach the last eight and the first Arab nation to reach the last eight, both of which have been achieved on the back of becoming the first ever African nation to pick up seven points in the group stages.

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Not many will have backed them to finish top of a group including Belgium and Croatia – apart from maybe Samuel Eto’o – but they managed to do just that, and have reached this stage by conceding just one goal in four games. Even that one they scored themselves. This Moroccan success shouldn’t be seen as a surprise, though. You don’t have the sort of success that they’ve had recently without a plan, without commitment to the cause. They’re now enjoying the fruits of their labours.

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As things stand a Moroccan side are the reigning champions in the CAF Championship League, CAF Confederation Cup, CAF Super Cup and CAF Women’s Champions League. They’ve thrown their weight behind local coaches, they’ve scoured the globe for the best they can find, and now they’re reaping the rewards.

Walid Regragui has worked his way up the ranks, put in the hard yards. He’s won the Botola with both Fath Union Sport and Wydad AC, and in May he led Wydad to the CCL title - a win that ultimately saw him land the Morocco job, becoming the first Moroccan in the role since 2016. They were solid enough before his arrival – they’ve only lost once in 90 minutes since the latter part of 2019 – but since he took over from Vahid Halilhodžić the results have been pretty remarkable.

Wins (with clean sheets) over Chile and Belgium, with clean sheets are impressive enough, but going the distance against Spain to book a quarter-final spot is as big an achievement as any Moroccan side have ever managed. Now they’re pitted against Portugal as they look to do something that no African team has ever manager – reach a World Cup semi-final.

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Once again they’ll be the underdogs, once again the odds will be against them, but anybody who has watched them in Qatar will know that they’ve got more than a fighting chance.

They may not make it, in which case they will leave Doha with their heads held high safe in the knowledge that they’ve made heroes of themselves back home, but if they do… If they do, it won’t just be the streets of Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakesh that are celebrating.

It’ll be a result that sends shockwaves throughout a continent, and sets a new benchmark that Africa has been aiming for since Roger Milla and Cameroon back in 1990. There’s pressure, of course there is, but these Moroccans play for the likes of Bayern Munich, PSG, Chelsea and Fiorentina. They know all about pressure.

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