Morocco has done something truly remarkable. By overcoming their rivals, Spain, they have become a team that will represent a whole continent. As Morocco prepares for Portugal, millions will have found their dreams realized with this side.
When Achraf Hakimi slotted home his penalty against Spain, it was a moment of pure euphoria. Against their former colonizers, Morocco was able to find a way to beat the odds and represent Africa in the next stage.
Like many other teams, Morocco is full of players who could have represented other countries, but chose the Atlas Lions. This team has embraced their African and Arabic identities, giving so many people a chance to feel represented. It’s part of the beauty of this tournament, a chance for every person to find hope in any team.
Many wrote off Morocco based on the group they were and many favored them to finish last. Instead, Morocco won their group in commanding manner, winning two games and drawing one. Then they knocked out one of the tournament favorites.
It would be a beautiful story for the Lions to overcome the Portuguese giants. So many around the World will be cheering for Morocco to keep the dream going.
The last African team to make the World Cup quarters was Ghana in 2010, who seemed destined for the semis. 12 years later, Morocco has an excellent chance to represent Africa and the Arab world in the semis.
Hakimi was born in Spain, Ziyech in the Netherlands and shootout hero, Bono in Canada. This is a team full of players who could have played for other nations, but chose Morocco. The choice to reject the call of other nations to play for the one that matches your identity is powerful.
By making that choice, this Moroccan side is able to serve as an inspiration to so many. Much of Africa and the Arab world will be cheering on this representation. With so much heartbreak at various World Cups for both worlds, it’s perfect that Morocco can unite them.
It also doesn’t hurt that the team they beat to reach this point was their former colonizer. Shades of Senegal beating France on 2002 flooded this victory.
While it is just a symbolic victory, as the scars of colonialism never leave, it’s still a powerful one. The ability to deny a country that has done so much wrong to another the chance at a trophy is special. It’s, unfortunately, the closest chance at any sort of reparations that they can get.
This is also why this team resonates with so many formerly colonized, or in some cases still, people. Had they beaten Japan, there would likely not have been this connection. But, beating a nation that has twisted their identity and culture, they have become a beacon of light.
Portugal will be the toughest test Morocco has faced thus far. However, with the support of millions, they may just find the motivation that they need.
Going into the tournament, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Morocco would finish behind Belgium and Croatia. Against great odds, they are now staring down a chance at the semis.
Much of the credit should not only go to the players, but to manager Walid Regragui as well. Regragui has put together a coaching masterpiece so far, knowing how to exploit every side. To go from a relatively unknown coach to outcoaching Luis Enrique is truly remarkable.
Regragui has created one of the best defenses at the entire tournament, with the help of Bono, conceding just one goal. At the same time, his team can kill opponents in a number of ways. Spain learned this the hard way, as Morocco created the best chances by hitting on the counter.
Of course the players deserve the spotlight as well, as they have been fantastic. Hakimi is developing into the best right back in the sport. Ziyech is showing why he must play more at Chelsea, as he has been the side’s creative heartbeat.
Bono has emerged as the best keeper in the tournament with the golden glove surely on its way. Youssef En-Nesyri is still the physical force that he has been for Sevilla. While Sofyan Amrabat has been a terror in the midfield, dominating Spain’s creative dynamos.
With a great balance of excellent coach and player performances, Morocco has found a way to surprise everyone. As they prepare to face Portugal, the team has a great foundation for future success.
As they walked off the field victorious on Tuesday, there was a feeling of hope for this Moroccan side. For a moment, they had realized the dream of so many African and Arabic sides. Now, as they stand on the precipice of something special, they have the support of all of them.
Featured image: Reuters