Qatar World Cup | Regragui revives the ‘Lions of the Atlas’

The players keep Regragui after certifying the pass to the second round. / afp

After the serious gray crisis at the end of the summer that cost Vahid Halilhodzic his job, Morocco qualified for the round of 16 as the first group

Igor Barcia

At the end of August, the Moroccan team was a powder keg, involved in a serious crisis that led its great star to resign and an urgent change of coach to try to redirect the situation. It was a daunting challenge but Walid Regragui has achieved it with an impeccable first phase, historic for the ‘Lions of the Atlas’. First of a group that included Belgium, third in the World Cup in Russia, and Croatia, no less than a finalist. And with only one goal against, the one conceded this afternoon after beating Canada. Since 1986 Morocco had not reached the round of 16 and now they have the opportunity to dream of a quarterfinal in their sixth presence in a World Cup. His rival will come out of the quartet formed by Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica next Tuesday.

Morocco has a large block of players in this World Cup, but it would be unfair not to refer to their coach as the architect of a change in trend after the open crisis between Vahid Halilhodzic and Hakim Ziyech. Let’s recap. The Bosnian coach led the North Africans to qualify for Qatar after winning the tie against the Democratic Republic of Congo. But by then the crisis had already exploded harshly and due to disagreements between the coach and the Moroccan star, Ziyech announced that he would not play for Morocco again. In fact, the Chelsea striker was not called up for the African Cup. “Even if I was like Lionel Messi, I can’t call a player like Ziyech. He can ruin the atmosphere in the group”, said the Morocco coach at the time.

But the Moroccan Federation did not have the same point of view as the Bosnian coach and decided to settle the situation with a view to the World Cup in Qatar. At the end of August he sacked Halilhodzic and challenged Walid Regragui. Not only take the reins of the Atlas lions but try to repeat the achievement of 1986, that is, get past the group stage. And Regragui did not doubt it. He had three months to spare, but he was able to ease the situation, get Ziyech back and restore harmony to a group of players who have proven their worth in these first three games in Qatar.

Regragui, born just seven kilometers from the border with Ceuta, made a career as a footballer in France, playing for clubs like Toulouse, Dijon, Ajaccio, Grenoble… and also in Spain, since he played 27 games for Racing as a right-back where he left a good memory. After closing his sports career, he began his career as an assistant coach to the coach Rachid Taoussi and later built a solid reputation at FUS Rabat and Wydad Casablanca, with experience in Qatar in 2020. «I admire Guardiola, Simeone, Ancelotti… but I have my own style. I’ve been coaching for 8-9 years and at first I used to put a lot of emphasis on possession and high pressing, but I’ve become more pragmatic over the years. At Wydad, winning was the most important thing and you learn to adapt your style to the players,” Regragui explained when he arrived in Morocco regarding his style book. True to that style, this methodical coach with character has given the team its own identity, competitive and hard-working, far from the indiscipline that prevails in other African blocs.

In this World Cup, the brilliance of its great star, Ziyech, was expected, but in this last game against Canada an old acquaintance of Spanish football like Youssef En-Nesyri has been uncovered. They are two of the best-known players in a group where Sevilla goalkeeper Bono also stands out. In defense, Achraf Hakimi (PSG), Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern) and Nayef Aguerd (West Ham) stand out, while in midfield another classic like Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina) continues to accumulate games.


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