Morocco became the first African side to reach the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup. The North African team impressed from the Group Stage where they finished top of Group F ahead of Croatia. In the Round of 16, they ousted Spain on penalties, before defeating Portugal 1 – 0 in the quarter-final.
Walid Regragui opted to add West Ham defender Nayef Aguerd to the starting lineup and start Romain Saiss despite doubts on their fitness. However, Aguerd had to pull out of the match shortly before kick-off and Saiss had to be substituted after only 20 minutes as he was visibly struggling with an injury.
France took the lead in the 5th minute through Theo Hernandez and despite Morocco’s dominance for most parts of the game, they could not find a way past Hugo Lloris. Substitute Randal Kolo Muani sealed the victory for Les Bleus who are in their second consecutive World Cup final.
“Until the last minute we weren’t sure, we waited until the last minute to see if Romain could play. He is such an important player for us, our captain,” he said, admitting his squad were on their “last legs”.
“Nayef was recovering from flu and wanted to play as well, I thought it was best to play with three defenders so they didn’t have too much to run at.
“We made a lot of mistakes and then Romain had to go off and we changed to a four-man defence and actually played better.
“I have no regrets about the decision. Nayef’s absence was difficult and all of these little things meant we got off to quite a poor start, you learn from your mistakes, I do as well. If all our squad was fit we could have caused them even more problems.
“At a World Cup, this was one step too far, not in terms of quality or tactics but physically, we had too many players at 60-70 per cent.”
Regragui believes Morocco have helped the imagine of African football on a global stage and that he will now be cheering on France in Sunday’s final.
“We are going to support them (France) now,” he added.
“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.
“We were representing our country and our continent. People already respected us but I think they respect us more now.
“Congratulations to France. I said before the match, they are a very good side and they were well-placed to win the game but in spite of all the injuries we had, the tiredness, we pulled out all the stops, gave them everything, caused them problems and that is already quite an achievement.
“You can’t win a World Cup with miracles, you need to win it through hard work and that is what we will do, we will keep working.”
Morocco will play Croatia in the third-place play-off on Saturday, while France will play Argentina in the final on Sunday.