What French captain said about Atlas Lions
Everybody knows that France are favourites in Wednesday’s semifinal clash with Atlas Lions of Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium, the magnificent edifice that hosted the opening ceremony of the ongoing World Cup.
However, followers of the game also know that at this stage of the World Cup anything can happen.
Any team that enjoys the benefits of their hard work and the benevolence such produces can not only be among the last two but also capable of winning the diadem. It is this belief and the wave from Arab world that have put everybody on the edge here in Qatar and beyond.
This is a World Cup full of surprises. This is the first World Cup in the Arab world, the first in the Middle East, the first time an African team would beat Brazil (Cameroun), the first time fans could watch two matches in a day (because of the proximity of the stadiums), the first World Cup one African country will maul down football giants – Belgium, Spain, Portugal – and the first time that same African country will reach semifinal.
And who says the surprise cannot continue? This is precisely why Hugo Lloris, the French captain who keeps for Tottenham said some hours ago that one would be making a mistake to assume that France would be coasting to the final with ease. A journalist had said that Morocco, haven reached this far, would have nothing to lose against France. “I don’t think Morocco want to stop here (Semifinal). They want more victories. It’s all about heroism. They want more,” Hugo reacted in the last media interaction before the cracker.
There’s a feeling here that Morocco can continue the surprise song if they can stop Kylian Mbape. But was that not the mistake England made against France? Kyle Walker fared well marking Mbape but the French sensation sometimes moved away from the left flank, played deep and made good moves. That was how he created their first goal. Mbape may create goals for France if Morocco try to block him from running into their vital areas especially from the left where he usually plays. But can they? Whatever happens at Al Bayt, Morocco have done Africa proud. Getting to the semifinal of the World Cup in this style is a story that will be told and retold to generations. And they are not done yet. That’s the warning Hugo was sounding it while hoping they will successfully defend the World Cup. They are in Qatar as champions but Morocco have become the news here. Journalists are descending on African journalists at the media centre to speak on Morocco. More of their fans have stormed Qatar for the match against France.
The Arab world will be behind them. They are at home in Qatar. French fans will be many but Moroccan fans will be massive and noisy for the African heroes. Support from fans can motivate but may not win matches otherwise Peru would be here. Qatar fans are still missing them. Their last World qualifier last June was here against Australia. 30,000 fans from Peru sang, drummed and made the stadium warm for 90 minutes. Qatar fell in love with them. They won on the stands but lost on the pitch.
Fans wore long faces as they left the stadium. They wanted a repeat of their orchestra at the World Cup. Moroccan fans will outnumber those cheering France but the players will be the ones that will win the game. Morocco have a goal keeper, Yassine Bounou, who conceded only an own goal in regulation time here. He is a goal keeper that follows the ball in penalty shoot-outs rather than choose a side to dive to even before the kick like many goal keepers do. He will be a force against France. So will be Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal and captain Romain Saiss if he returns from injury.
France, parading top players like Mbape, Benjamin, Hernande, Verane, Olivier Giroud are favourites but Morocco have become legends of surprise game. They are superbly coached by a man who boosts their confidence and tells them to go into the pitch and enjoy while fighting. His name is Walid Regragui.
He played as a right back in his days and believes in marking, playing compact before exploding. That’s why they were skilful but resilient against Portugal. They hope to re-enact that feat against France. France have better pedigree, greater history, bigger players and are favoured to win. But surprises happen. That’s what the world will be expecting today for the seeming fairy tale to continue here in Qatar.