Walid Regragui, the 47-year-old Morocco manager, tasted his first defeat as a national team coach in the World Cup semifinals. With a whole region backing his team to continue their miraculous journey, Morocco was in uncharted territory after Theo Hernandez gave France the early lead in the fifth minute.
With captain Romain Saiss stepping out with an injury in the 21st minute, the Paris-born coach rejigged his team from a five-man defence to play a more attacking game.
Despite enjoying 61 percent possession for the first time in the tournament, the Moroccan players failed to be clinical in the final third and missed several chances. Regragui, however, was proud of his team’s achievements.
“We’re disappointed for the Moroccan people tonight, we wanted to keep the dream alive. But we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved. We felt that we could have gone even further but these small details help real champions, which we saw tonight, of course,” he said in his post-match press interaction.
“Today, if I have regrets, it’s the start of the game. We started quite poorly, and we conceded a goal very quickly and that made the difference. They allowed us to have quite a lot of possession, but we made too many mistakes to cause them problems.”
Morocco had also lost its other first-choice centre back Nayef Aguerd in the warm-up after a recurrence of a hamstring injury. “In spite of all of the injuries that we had, the tiredness, we pulled out all the stops and we gave everything,” Regragui said.
“I think physically, we came up short tonight. We had too many players who were 60 percent or 70 percent and have been for a few games now. My players gave everything, and they went as far as they could. I really wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can’t win a World Cup with miracles, you need to do it through hard work.”
Regragui, who replaced Vahid Halilhodzic months before the tournament, defied critics and bookmakers to fashion a dream run as Morocco became the first African team to make it to the World Cup semifinals. The sports loving-nation with a football-mad ruler in Mohammed VI has benefitted from the state-of-the-art Mohammed VI Football Academy which was established in 2009 and further modernised in 2019 with a total expenditure of USD 16.8 million.
“His Majesty was also proud, the Moroccan people were proud,” Regragui said. “I think the world as a whole is proud of this Moroccan team because we show great desire. We work hard, and we played honest, hard-working football. I think we’ve given a good image of Morocco and a good image of African football and that was also important for us, because we were representing our country and our continent.”
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