Morocco boss hits out at European journalists ahead of France World Cup semi-final | Football | Sport


Walid Regragui does not care if the rest of the planet thinks he is crazy. The Morocco coach believes his team can win the for Africa.

Despite Pele’s infamous 1977 prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by the year 2000, Morocco are the first country from the continent even to reach the semi-finals. But their inspirational French-born coach is not satisfied with that – even though it is the defending champions themselves standing in their immediate path at the Al Bayt Stadium.

“The further we go in the tournament the more difficult the games are,” Regragui said. “We are going to play the world champions with some world-class players and a very good coach, perhaps the best in the world. We are going to produce great desire and try to pull off an upset. Why not reach the final of the WC?

“We came into the tournament with great ambition to change mindsets in our continent. If we say we are happy to reach the semi-final, many people would say that is a success but I don’t agree.

“We are one of the best four teams in the world now and we are going to give everything to reach the final. We have had perhaps the most difficult run so far, beating some top sides. With every match some people thought we would be knocked out.

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“But we are very ambitious and hungry, and we are determined to rewrite the history books. We are not here to kid around and we are not tired.

“We are going to dig deep and want to rewrite the history books for our brothers in North Africa, for Egyptians, Libyans, all those who dreamed of seeing an African team in a semi-final.

“I don’t want to wait another 40 years to give another African team a chance. Yes, I am a bit crazy, a bit of a dreamer. A lot of commentators criticised African teams before the tournament, saying five teams at the tournament is enough. We want Africa to be on top of the world.”

Certainly the philosophy that has got him this far is brutally sane.

“Pep Guardiola was my hero for a long time,” the 47-year-old said. “I wanted to keep the ball, play possession football. And when you have Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, that is possible.

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“A lot of European journalists have criticised our style of play – they don’t like to see an African team play cleverly. They think African teams used to be fun but get knocked out. Those days are over now.

“There isn’t just one way of winning. We are going to play to our strengths. You can have 50-60 percent possession, but that doesn’t matter if you only have one shot. Expected goals don’t mean anything.

“We are going to try to destroy statistics. You may think I am crazy? Only 12 percent chance of winning the World Cup… We are going to try to get that up a little bit more. We are going to fight with the tools we have.

“And the key for us is team spirit, how we play the same as a club, not a national team. Everybody works and wants to give their best and we play a collective game every day with a good spirit. The spirit is everything for me.”

Which brings the narrative tidily back round to Pele, and this time The Beautiful Game.

“Why is it beautiful? Because everyone has their opinions and sees it differently and with their own idea of what football is,” Regragui concluded.

“Some teams are not as good, some are stronger, sometimes it is not the best team that wins a match. That is why it is the best sport in the world and it is not always the best team that wins.”

PROBABLE TEAM (4-3-3): Bono; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal.

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