Morocco A World Cup fairytale like no other.
The Atlas Lions are already the most successful African team in World Cup history – the first nation to reach the final four of the tournament.
Morocco defeated European heavyweights Belgium, Spain and Portugal in the semi-finals.
Now the Atlas Lions face the best Europe has to offer – the world champions France.
After Morocco defeated Portugal, head coach Walid Regragui compared his team to “Rocky”.
“We made our people and our continent very happy and proud. When you see ‘Rocky’, you want to support Rocky Balboa, I think we are the ‘Rocky’ of this World Cup,” said Regragui. “I think the world is with Morocco now.”
Morocco certainly punched above its weight at Qatar 2022, thanks in part to the team’s “12th man” in the stands.
Thousands of Moroccans live in Doha, and thousands have made the short journey across the Middle East to support their country, creating a non-stop cheer at every match.
After the win over Portugal, Morocco’s national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) said it would provide nearly 30 flights to Doha ahead of the match against France, state-run news agency MAP reported on Monday.
Add to those fans the support of Africans and Arabs around the world and the goodwill of a planet that wants to throw two more knockout punches at the World Cup’s own Rocky Balboa in this tournament, and there’s a growing sense that France won’t play. At the Al Bad Stadium in Doha, rather than the Mohammed V in Casablanca.
The Atlas Lions are also powered by perhaps the most unlikely sources; Their mothers.
After Morocco’s victories over Spain and Portugal, players such as Achraf Hakimi and Sobian Boufal were pictured kissing or dancing with their mothers.
Their presence follows Recruit’s decision to invite players’ families to stay with the team in Doha. Recragui’s own mother attended the entire competition, a first for Fatima.
“In his whole career as a player and a coach, I have never traveled to see him,” he told Moroccan broadcaster Ariadia.
“I’ve lived in France for over 50 years now and this is the first match I’ve ever left Paris.”
If fans want to see tears of joy instead of sadness after the game, Morocco will have to do something they have never done before and beat France.
Despite the close relationship between the countries, Morocco and France have only played five times, with Morocco losing four times and drawing once.
France are at their menacing best, dispelling all doubts hanging over the 2018 World Cup champions.
Despite missing at least five key players, the French have emerged as strong contenders to retain their title after securing a win over England in the quarter-finals.
Kylian Mbappe was once again the star of the show and the tournament’s top scorer underlined his status as the world’s best player, succeeding the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But against England, France presented itself with plenty of threats, apart from the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
Antoine Griezmann reinvented himself as a midfielder and played a key role in the win against England, while another unlikely hero, Giroud, headed home the winner.
Like Griezmann, Giroud has had a renaissance this World Cup. After failing to score a single goal in 2018, it looked at one point that Giroud would never play for France again after Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema returned to the team.
Since then, he has scored four goals at the World Cup – just one behind Mbappé – and has become France’s all-time record goalscorer.
With Mbappé lining up against not only the best right back in the world, but also his close friend Hakimi, the rest of France’s players will need to be at their best.
The pair play together for PSG and have become inseparable over the past year, making Hakimi the perfect candidate to stop his mercurial friend.
But no love will be lost when the pair play on Wednesday, something Mbappé said long before the match.
In January, when the PSG team was in Doha, Mbappé predicted that his friend would play.
“France, Tunisia I hope we win and then we play against Morocco, I have to destroy my friend [Hakimi]He said in a video shot by BeIN Sports. “It breaks my heart a little bit but that’s football. It is what it is, I have to kill him.
Hakimi replied: “I want to kick him.”
If Mbappé and company are to get past this determined Moroccan and reach the final, they will need to be at their ruthless best.
France vs. Morocco: 2 p.m. ET
US: Fox Sports
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media