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Morocco is approaching the World Cup final but faces its toughest test in France

Morocco is approaching the World Cup final but faces its toughest test in France



CNN

Morocco Witness a fantasy world cup like no other.

The Atlas Lions are already the most successful African team in World Cup history – becoming the first country ever to reach the tournament’s quarter-finals.

To reach the semi-finals, Morocco defeated European heavyweight teams Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

Now the Atlas Lions are up against the best that Europe has to offer – the world champions France.

After Morocco’s victory over Portugal, coach Walid Regragui compared his team to “Rocky”.

“We’ve made our people and our continent so happy and proud. When you watch the movie Rocky, you want to support Rocky Balboa and I think we’re ‘Rocky’ at this World Cup,” said Regragui. “I think the world is now with Morocco.”

Morocco certainly punched above its weight at Qatar 2022, thanks in part to the team’s “twelfth man” in the stands.

Thousands of Moroccans live in Doha, and thousands more have taken the jaunt across the Middle East to support their nation, creating unremitting buzz at every match.

On Monday, MAP reported that after the victory over Portugal, Morocco’s national airline, Air Maroc, said it would offer nearly 30 flights to Doha before the match against France.

Add to these fans, the support of Africans and Arabs from around the world and the goodwill of a planet looking for World Cup special Rocky Balboa to throw two more knockout punches in this tournament and there is a growing sense that France will not be playing at the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha but at the Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca.

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Atlas lions are also supported by the most likely sources; their mothers.

After Morocco beat Spain and Portugal, players like Achraf Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal were photographed kissing or dancing with their mothers.

Their presence followed Regragui’s decision to invite the players’ families to stay with the team in Doha. Regragui’s mother was present throughout the tournament, a first for Fatima.

“Throughout his career as a player and as a coach, I have never traveled to watch him,” she told Moroccan Radio.

“I have been living in France for more than 50 years and this is the first competition I left Paris for.”

If the fans want to see tears of joy instead of sadness after the match, then Morocco will have to do something it has never done before and beat France.

Despite the close relations between the two countries, Morocco and France only played five times, and Morocco lost four times and tied once.

Olivier Giroud overtook Thierry Henry as France's all-time leading goalscorer.

France were at their best as a threat, dispelling all doubts that had hung over the 2018 World Cup champions.

Despite the absence of at least five key players, the French emerged as strong contenders to retain their title after beating England in the quarter-finals.

Kylian Mbappe was once again the star of the show, and the tournament’s top scorer confirmed his position as successor to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world.

Against England, however, France showed they had plenty of other threats beyond the PSG forward.

Antoine Griezmann reinvented himself as a midfielder and was instrumental in the win against England, voicing another unlikely hero, Giroud, to head the winner.

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Like Griezmann, Giroud has witnessed this World Cup renaissance. After failing to score a single goal in 2018 and with Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema back in the squad, it looked like Giroud might never play for France again.

Since then, he’s scored four World Cup goals – just one behind Mbappe – and has become France’s all-time leading scorer.

And the rest of France’s players will need to be at their best as Mbappe will be up against not only the best right-back in the world, but also his closest friend, Hakimi.

Hakimi and Mbappe have become close friends since the Moroccan moved to the French capital last year.

The duo plays together for Paris Saint-Germain and have become inseparable for the past year, making Hakimi the perfect candidate to stop his mercurial friend.

But no love will be lost when the pair play on Wednesday, something Mbappe said long before the tournament.

In January, when the Paris Saint-Germain team was in Doha, Mbappe predicted that he would play his friend.

“France and Tunisia I hope we win and then we play Morocco and I have to destroy my friend [Hakimi]He said in a video filmed by beIN Sports. “This will break my heart a little bit but it’s football. It’s what it is, I have to kill it.”

Hakimi responded by saying, “I have to kick him.”

Mbappe and his buddies will have to be at their best if they are to overtake this powerful Moroccan team and reach the final.

France vs. Morocco: 2 p.m. ET

United States: Fox Sports

United Kingdom: BBC

Australia: SBS

Brazil: SportTV

Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom

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Canada: Bell Media