(CNN) — After 3 hours of continuous noise, the Education City Stadium became completely silent, after Ashraf Hakimi stood around the penalty kick point.
Hakimi was born in Madrid and had Africa and the Arab world on his shoulders, but you would never have guessed that the Paris Saint-Germain player calmly slashed the ball into the net and set off wild celebrations not only on the field, but also in Morocco and the Moroccan diaspora.
It was a historic day for Morocco, Africa, Arabs and Muslims. The “Atlas Lions” had stunned Spain, which won the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Coach Walid Regragui did not lose sight of the importance of this occasion.
“In the past, only the Moroccans supported us, now it is the Africans and the Arabs,” Regragui said before the match against Spain.
For many it was the shock of the tournament, as the North Africans won their first World Cup knockout match, but how did Morocco reach the quarter-finals of world football’s most prestigious tournament?
The return of the chosen son of Morocco
I was amazed when the Moroccan Federation took the decision to dismiss Vahid Halilodjic last August, just over three months before the World Cup finals, after the Bosnian coach led the team during qualification for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
But for those in Morocco, it was instead the heir to the Moroccan throne taking his place in due course.
Nicknamed “The Avocado Head” because of his bald head, Walid Regragui was a tough defender who, despite his birth in France, chose to represent his family’s nation, earning 45 caps.
Since becoming a coach, Regragui has found success everywhere he has been, leading Moroccan mid-table club Al-Fateh Rabat to its only ever league title.
He had a short stint in Qatar, winning the league with Al Duhail, before returning to Morocco where he led Wydad Casablanca to the league and Champions League double earlier this year.
It was a matter of time, not whether he would take charge of the national team. Many Moroccans thought it might happen after the World Cup or in a few years, but none of them were unhappy when it was announced that he would take charge of the national team less than 100 days before. His first match in the World Cup.
In African football, Regragui is often compared to Jose Mourinho thanks to his tactical discipline and excellent management skills, both of whom were present at the World Cup.
Navigating tournaments like the World Cup can be emotionally difficult, with players away from home for weeks, but Regragui countered that by allowing the players’ families to stay with the team at the camp in Qatar.
The Federation takes football very seriously
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) should also be credited for the success of the Atlas Lions in the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
After decades of mediocre football, the Moroccan Football Federation, with the support of King Mohammed VI, decided to reform the football structure in the country.
In 2009, the Moroccan Football Federation opened its own Mohammed VI Football Academy, which has helped develop existing internationals such as Nayef Akrad and Youssef Nasri, as well as trying to scout talent in the Moroccan diaspora by hiring scouts from all over Europe to scout any young player. qualified in Europe.
The federation also began investing in women’s football, developing school and club football as well as creating a national league structure. With the support of the Football Association, Morocco is currently the only country in the world to have two levels of women’s football that are both fully professional.
Moroccan clubs and teams for men and women have achieved a number of achievements at the continental level.
Morocco’s success in the World Cup may be the best story of the tournament so far, but it is not the result of luck and determination, but of experience and planning.
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