In the streets of Doha, you no longer spot the canary yellow of Brazil.
The blue-and-white stripes of Argentina, still there in the tournament, are also lost in the red of Morocco as if a bottle of Heinz (ketch-up) has been upended over the city.
Morocco, the “Rocky of this World Cup,” as coach Walid Regragui calls his team, has already created history in a historical first World Cup in the Arab region.
“Winning is what matters, winning for Africa, winning for our people, winning to show our neighbours, Egypt, Libya, that we can do it.”Morocco head coach Walid Regragoui before the semifinal
It is the first team from Africa to make it to the semi-finals in 92 years of trying.
Its supporters are everywhere – the Moroccan shirts, flags and scarves are a scarcity as shopkeepers in the Souq wonder what to do with the leftover Brazil and England jerseys.
Regragui’s team has defied every prediction to be here (except those of Samuel Eto’o and Sunday Oliseh) as it started the tournament with odds of 200/1.
But now, a step away from the final, its defence is yet to be breached by an opposition striker.
The only goal it has conceded came from its own defender’s deflection in a 2-1 win over Canada, one of the hosts of the next edition of the tournament.
France manager Didier Deschamps, looking to reach back-to-back World Cup finals, acknowledged the compactness of its opponent on Thursday.
“Morocco has the ability to defend very well. But it also has offensive qualities to win games, otherwise, it wouldn’t be here.
But it’s the team that defended the best with a very good organisation. My observers have seen all the games and there are things to consider. Our objective will be to create difficulties for them and find a way to score,” he said.
But Morocco is not just defence minded.
Regragui’s side, despite ceding possession – Morocco, on average, has enjoyed 32.4 per cent possession in its five games – has utilised the dribbling skills and speed of its wingers Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal to run one of the most impressive counter-attacking units.
Morocco’s 13 shots on goal and five goals are the lowest among the four semi-finalists, but alongside Croatia, it is the only undefeated team left in the tournament.
“We are still hungry, and a lot,” Regragui said about his team’s dreams in his pre-match press conference.
“France will not want us to have the ball, because they need it. We need three or four chances, score the goal and knock out the opponent. France was not spectacular against England, but they were effective.
If we have 12 percent possession of the ball, but we are effective, it doesn’t matter. Winning is what matters, winning for Africa, winning for our people, winning to show our neighbours, Egypt, Libya, that we can do it.”
Deschamps’s France, too, has defied the conventional notion of ball possession and looked at defensive stability to outlast opponents.
Against England, it had 42 percent possession but was devastating with its wing play and was clinical with the chances that came its way.
Deschamps, however, expects the game against Morocco to be different.
“We want to have the ball to create danger, but you saw that in our game against Poland (in the last 16) they actually had it more than expected,” he said.
“We’re as good as Morocco on the break and on fast attacks. We won’t abandon possession, but when we have the ball, we’re going to have to make it count.”
Kylian Mbappe, the leading scorer of the World Cup with five strikes, will be up against Achraf Hakimi, who has been the standout right-back here, while Yahia Attiyat has done wonderfully well on the left.
But the absence of skipper Romain Saiss, who – in tears – was stretchered out against Portugal, might cause a problem for the Atlas Lions against the guile and positioning of Oliver Giroud.
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But most in the 68,895-seater Al Bayt Stadium and the streets of Doha would like the Moroccan underdogs to continue their Hollywood feel-good story against their old colonisers.
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