by Rajwin Paul Singh
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Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi celebrates after scoring the winning penalty during the penalty shootout as Morocco progress to the quarter finals.(REUTERS/Matthew Childs)

African history-makers Morocco head to the World Cup semi-finals to face-off defending champions and favourites of the tournament, France on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium, Qatar. The Atlas Lions rose to the top of their group ahead of Croatia, Canada and Belgium before knocking out powerhouses Spain and Portugal at the knockout stage.

Morocco had previously only made it out of the group stage once in their last five World Cup appearances where Germany eliminated them in the Round of 16 at the 1986 edition at Mexico. Having one major international title, the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco are beating all odds to redeem themselves as the first African champions at the World Cup.

The leaders of Group F conceded only one goal in their five games at the 2022 World Cup making them one of the two teams conceding the least number of goals. Morocco during the group stage, defeated Belgium, the No 2 national team on the FIFA Men’s World Ranking and Canada 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. They then held previous World Cup finalists Croatia to a goalless draw which put them at the top of their group.

Morocco players celebrate qualifying for the quarter finals . (REUTERS/Lee Smith)

Walid Regragui, Morocco coach, brought his team to the Round of 16 where they faced 2010 World Cup champions Spain. The game ended 0-0 after 120 minutes which finished with a 3-0 penalty shootout win for Morocco as goalkeeper Yassine Bonou stopped two out of three shots taken against him. Achraf Hakimi then sealed the victory by a little chip shot against Spain’s Unai Simon.

Making their way to the quarter finals, Morocco found themselves against 2016 European Champions and 2019 Nation League Winners, Portugal. Morocco forward Youssef En- Nesyri jumped to a record breaking height of 2.78 metres as he headed Morocco’s winning goal which put them in the next round of the tournament. Interestingly, the previous record was held by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo when he headed past Sampdoria from over 2.5 metres in December 2019, according to beIN SPORTS.

Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri scores record-breaking header against Portugal (REUTERS/Molly Darlington)

The King of Morocco His Majesty Mohammed VI spoke to the President of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, Fouzi Lekjaa, and the coach of the national team, Walid Regragui, on telephone to whom the Sovereign expressed His sincere congratulations to the players  and staff technical and administrative who knew how to give the best of themselves and accomplish an excellent course during this major sporting competition.

In addition, the  Head of State of  Palestine, Mahmoud  Abbas, the  President of the Republic of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba and His Highness Prince Hassan Ibn Talalof Jordan expressed their warm congratulations to the Sovereign, following the historic feat which made Morocco the first African and Arab country to reach this stage in a World Cup.

Two-time World Cup Winner, France are Morocco’s next opponents as they too topped their table in the group stage. Whichever team makes it to the final will face either Croatia or Argentina for world’s football’s biggest prize on Sunday. Morocco has shown to the world that desire, hard work and conviction can lead to what it is now, and therefore is a winner in this World Cup.

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