Four months ago, when he became manager of Morocco, hardly anyone knew who he was. Walid Regragui. Today everyone is talking about him. On the bench of one of the teams that will play in a semi-final there will be no Luis Enrique, Hansi Flick, Van Gaal, Tite or Southgate, there will be Regragui.
And his team, which has already sent the World Cup to Belgium, Spain and Portugal, will challenge France, “my second country”. is that Walid was born 47 years ago in Corbeil-Essonnesas, a few kilometers from Paris and although he grew up there, he chose to represent his parents’ country. As a right-back he played for several French clubs: Racing de Paris, Toulouse, Ajaccio, Dijon, Grenoble and Fleury Merogis. He also wore the Racing de Santander jersey, where he was a teammate of Lionel Scaloni, and the Moroccan Mogreb Tetuán. And that of his team, even if he was unable to play in any World Cup. As a coach, he started in 2012 as assistant on the field to Rachid Taoussi in his country, then moved to FUS Rabat and Wydad Casablanca in his country.
In addition to throwing beautiful phrases such as “we are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup, everyone wants Morocco to win”, the man is making a revolution by placing an African team in the top four for the first time in 22 World Cups.
But nothing is by chance, Regragui was very clear about what he had to do in such a short time. First, take Hakim Ziyech back. The current Chelsea striker was out of the squad after an argument with Vahid Halilhodzic, the previous manager, who said he would not have called him up “even if it were Messi”, accusing him of being unprofessional and feigning injuries in order not to train. The concrete thing is that today Ziyech is not only in the team, but he seems to be one of the most convinced of the game system, positioning himself as a right midfielder in a more defensive than offensive role despite his left foot being one of the most talented he has on campus .
In that iron 4-1-4-1 that Morocco sports, there are other signs of collective commitment rather than the individual one, such as that of Achraf Hakimi, one of the best right-backs in the world, especially when he projects, something he does very well in this team. The first is order. The same happens with the other outside midfielder, Sofiane Boufal, skilled and dribbling, whose first mission was to close the left-back. Everyone works for the common good, let’s say, but the one who stands out the most on the pitch is Sofyan Amrabat, the central midfielder who is always in the right place and is one of the revelations of this World Cup. You’ve seen it: he wears the number 4, he’s bald and he’s everywhere.
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that his players understood the idea and put it into play. Many of them have been playing in Europe for a long time. Excellent goalkeeper Yassini Bounou, known as Bono, shines in Spanish Sevilla, as does striker Youssef En-Nesyri, scorer of the winning goal against Portugal. Hakimi is from Paris Saint-Germain (he is a close friend of Kylian Mbappé, who will have to mark on Wednesday) and the other full-back Noussair Mazraoui (also fighting with Halilhodzic and recovered by Regragui) is at Bayern Munich. The central scorers, both injured and doubtful, also play abroad: Nayef Aguerd for West Ham in England and Romain Saiss, the captain, for Besiktas in Turkey. Amrabat is a figure of the Italian Fiorentina. Ziyech plays for Chelsea, previously played for Ajax, and Boufal for Angers in France.
But as far as the coach’s decisions are concerned, in the confidentiality of the team it is said that one of the most important was to invite the players’ mothers, even his mother, to the West Bay hotel where they meet, with all the expenses that will be paid by the Moroccan federation. In this World Cup, he is the only team that lives with his parents, who are a very influential figure in Arab culture. Recent images demonstrate this: Hakimi, after converting the decisive penalty against Spain, ran to hug his mother, who was in the front row at the Education City stadium.
Something similar was repeated in Al Thumama, after the 1-0 draw against Portugal, when Boufal danced with his mother in the middle of the pitch. “She is the most important thing,” said the midfielder. The emotions that football generates drive you crazy. Having the support of your family is essential.” The video of this dance is all the rage on the networks.
Before arriving in Qatar, Morocco had won just two matches out of 16 played in five World Cups. In Mexico 86 he had achieved his best performance, reaching the round of 16. Here he not only finished in the top four as they left Belgium in the group stage, Spain in the round of 16 and Portugal in the quarter-finals, but he also displays an impressive record of conceding just one goal, all against Aguerd. 2-1 victory over Canada. That is to say, so far no rival player has managed to convert him.
This is one of the reasons that allow him to dream of making more history against France. “We are showing the world that great things can be achieved without having so much talent, numbers or money. But if you work hard and show that desire, that passion, and that belief, you can be successful. It’s not a miracle,” says Regragui.
But it looks pretty similar.
Jason Root is the go-to source for sports coverage at News Rebeat. With a passion for athletics and an in-depth knowledge of the latest sports trends, Jason provides comprehensive and engaging analysis of the world of sports.