March 30, 2023

Weep Not, Morocco

5 min read

By Zayd Ibn Isah

Morocco’s impressive World Cup run came to a disappointing conclusion this past Wednesday, as the Atlas Lions were defeated with two goals by Les Bleus of France at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar.

Before this, Coach Walid Regragui and his boys surprised the world after they defeated Canada to finish above 2018 World Cup finalists, Croatia and favourites—Belgium. Usually, in football competition, when you finish at the top of your group, there is a huge chance of getting an easy draw at the knockout stages. That may be why many teams often fight tooth and nail to finish as group leaders. But for the Atlas Lions, their case wasn’t going to be that easy. They were drawn against 2010 World Cup winners, Spain, at the round of sixteen. And still, they upset the odds against La Roja in a thrilling encounter for the history books.

It did not just end there. The real shocker came at the quarterfinals against a Portuguese team that seemed formidable even without the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo. Again, pundits wrote Morocco off just like they did against Spain, only for the Atlas Lions to surmount the seemingly difficult odds in history-making, record-breaking fashion. They had become the first African country to qualify for a semifinals spot in 92 years of the Mundial.

The semi final tie against France was another litmus test for the spirited Morocco-side. This time around, they understandably went into the field with unshakeable resolve to defy the odds again, having conceded just once, and with that being an own goal by Nayet Aguerd against Canada. The Moroccan players did their best to beat a talented, tested and experienced French team. They bravely stood toe-to-toe with the current world champions in a tightly-contested game. But alas, the Atlas Lions did not succeed this time around, even though the remarkable string of memories they have created with outstanding performances will forever be stuck to our hearts like glue.

The match had Didier Deschampsʼs men racing to an early lead. Theo Hernandez showed tremendous composure when he just happened to be in the right spot for a rebound, one which he struck back into the middle of the net. This dispiriting goal saddled Morocco with the unenviable task of having to come from behind, something they’ve not had to do since their very first game. Looking for an instant response, the Moroccans would keep on pressing the French hard, with brilliant attempts at goal from Azzedine Ounahi, and even an audacious bicycle kick shot from El Yamiq that struck goalwards towards the bottom left corner of the post. A matter of inches separated Regraguiʼs men from going in level, and as both teams returned for the second half, pressure from the Lions intensified.

This intensity was only quelled with just only ten minutes of normal time left to play, when Randal Kolo Muani easily rolled a rebound in. This defeat at the hands of France clearly cut the Atlas Lions to the quick. While their opponents cheered and celebrated ecstatically after the final whistle, the Moroccans (players and fans alike) were captured on camera shedding tears. Some of the players actually fell to their knees in unimaginable anguish and despair. This sort of loss is one deeply felt by a larger collective of people such as non-Moroccans who might have connected with the underdog appeal of the Lions, or Africans/Arabs hopeful for a miraculous outcome.

However, this takes nothing away from the charmed surge of a team no one had even given much thought about. The Moroccans have every reason to look back and be proud of their exploits in Qatar. They came to the deserts, they squared up to each new challenge, and in a way they have conquered even their modest expectations. As Coach Walid Regragui said after the match, “The whole world is proud of this Moroccan team. We showed desire, played hard and have given a good image of Morocco and of African football. The most important thing is to have shown a good face, to have shown that football in Morocco exists and that we have great supporters.”

Those were poignant words from the man whose tactical vision had helped the Lions secure victories against Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route to the semifinals. Reaching this stage of the World Cup with relatively unknown players is no mean feat; as even this year’s ridiculously talented, star-studded English & Brazilian squads can attest to this. Morocco has undoubtedly been the dark horse in Qatar 2022. Not only will their story serve to inspire countless teams in the years to come, but their outstanding efforts have greatly raised the Africa’s stake and esteem in global football. After all, this is the first time that an Arab and African nation has made it to the semifinal of the biggest sporting event in it’s near-centennial history.

The last time an African nation got close to this level of record breaking was in South Africa 2010, when the Black Stars of Ghana had enormous support and drive. The Asamoah Gyan-led squad seemed destined for a semifinals spot, before being thwarted by Uruguay in a fated match even more heartbreaking for Africa as a whole than what transpired on Wednesday. With such a precedent, it is without a doubt that posterity will certainly judge this inspiring version of the Atlas Lions kindly; and their names will keep on resonating for long: Regragui, Ziyech, Saiss, Hakimi, Mazraoui, El Yamiq, Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Dari and goalkeeper Yaccine Bono.

Weep not, Morocco. Africa is proud of you. The world is proud of you. And for a long, long time, your historic and sensational run in Qatar will be a lesson in magical resilience for many to study, to be in awe of and to emulate. Weep not, Morocco. For you have brought joy to many hearts, you have made many to dream and believe and hope. That is a sweeter triumph than any laurel, because no one can ever take that away from you.

Zayd Ibn Isah writes from Abuja. He can be reached via

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