Morocco coach Walid Regragui said his side are “the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup” after the Atlas Lions became the first African team ever to reach the semifinals with a stunning victory over Portugal on Saturday.
The injury-hit North Africans held on for a 1-0 victory at Al Thumama Stadium to set up a last-four clash against either England or France, after Youssef En-Nesyri’s headed goal late in the first half.
The win over Portugal came after knocking out Spain in the last 16 on penalties and beating the world’s second-ranked team Belgium in the group stage.
“When you watch Rocky, you want to support Rocky Balboa because of his hard work and commitment and I think we’re the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup,” Regragui told reporters.
“We’re becoming the team that everyone loves at this World Cup because we’re showing that even if you don’t have as much talent if you show that desire, heart and belief, you can achieve.
“I’m sure many of you will say this is a miracle, but we’ve won without conceding against Belgium, Spain, Portugal and that’s the result of hard work.”
Morocco will take on either holders France or England on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium with the chance to become the first nation from outside Europe or South America to reach the final.
“We can dream, why shouldn’t we dream about winning the World Cup?” added Regragui, who only took over as coach in August.
“It doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams. European countries have been used to winning the World Cup…
“We’ve played some really top sides, but so far we haven’t achieved anything.
“Anyone who plays us now will have to be at the top of their game to beat us, it won’t be easy for them, that’s the message I’m trying to send out.”
‘WE HAD TO WRITE HISTORY’
Morocco had already surpassed expectations by becoming only the fourth African country and first Arab nation to reach the quarterfinals.
But they managed to go one step further than Cameroon in 1990, Senegal’s 2002 side and the Ghana team of 2010.
“We came up against a really great Portugal team. We’re drawing on all we have, we still have guys injured. We have a mindset,” Regragui told France’s TF1.
“I told the guys before the match we had to write history for Africa. I’m very, very happy.”
Regragui, a France-born former Morocco international, had already made history of his own as the first African coach to take a team into the World Cup quarterfinals.
Morocco were without injured defenders Noussair Mazraoui and Nayef Aguerd on Saturday, while captain Romain Saiss was stretchered off early in the second half.
“We’re very proud because the players who did come in did a fantastic job,” said Regragui.
“We’re a 26-man squad and to get far in this tournament we’ll need all of them.”
Morocco still have the best defensive record in the World Cup. The only time they have conceded in five matches was an own goal against Canada.
“It’s crazy. We’re living a dream and we don’t want to wake up. I have goosebumps,” said winger Sofiane Boufal.
“Everything we have, we deserve. We work hard. It’s not over. There’s still the semifinal and god willing, the final.”