'Every Moroccan is Moroccan': Regragui's fight to include foreign-born players vindicated

Fourteen of Morocco's 26-man World Cup squad born outside the country - including penalty shootout hero Achraf Hakimi

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Morocco manager Walid Regragui said the dramatic penalty-shootout victory against Spain vindicated his fight for foreign-born players to be included in their World Cup squad.

Spain-born Achraf Hakimi struck the winning spot-kick against the 2010 champions at Education City Stadium on Tuesday night, etching Morocco in history as the first Arab team to reach the quarter-finals of football’s showpiece tournament.

Hakimi, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain having begun his professional career with Real Madrid, is one of 14 players within Morocco’s 26-man squad born outside of the country.

Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper better known as "Bono" who saved two penalties in the shootout after the match finished goalless, was born in Canada.

Regragui, born in France, said Morocco’s record run was proof that foreign-born players can help lift the national team to sustained success.

“For this I have fought,” he said. “Before this World Cup we had a lot of problems about the guys born in Europe and guys not born in Morocco and a lot of journalists said, ‘Why don’t we play with guys born in Morocco?’.

“Today we have shown that every Moroccan is Moroccan. When he comes to the national team he wants to die, he wants to fight. As the coach, I was born in France, and nobody can have my heart for my country.

“This is what I say to the players. Every time they come to the national team they give 100 per cent.

“What is good is that players are born in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium – every country has a football culture and we have created a mixture and I’m very happy with that.”

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On Tuesday, Regragui made his own slice of history, becoming the first African manager – he represented Morocco between 2001 and 2009 – to guide a team to the last eight of a World Cup.

“I don’t care because I fight to make it not about nationality, to make it not about passports," said Regragui, whose squad celebrated the win on the pitch by unfurling a Palestine flag. "You have the competence – you can do it, or not. For me it’s not about being Arabic or African.

“I am an ambitious coach and I try to give this to my players. Maybe when I am an old man, I will see behind me and be proud.”

On Morocco’s incredible support, both in Doha and around the world, Regragui said: "I think it is impossible to do this without these fans. A lot of fans come to Qatar to support the team and all countries, from America to Europe to Morocco. They love their country and I can tell them I need them for the quarter-final to make history.

"I am very proud of my fans, my people and Arabic people, because I think you have Qatari people, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arabic people and African people, you have a lot countries behind our backs to make history."

Meanwhile, Spain manager Luis Enrique would not be drawn on his future with the national team in the aftermath of another World Cup last-16 exit on penalties.

Spain were knocked out of the 2018 tournament in similar fashion by hosts Russia, while they were also eliminated from last year’s Euro 2020 on spot-kicks – in the semi-final by eventual champions Italy.

Speaking on Tuesday night, Luis Enrique, who is now out of contract, said: “This is not the right time. It’s not relevant and it’s not important.

“My contract is going to end, but as you know I am very happy with the national team and the federation. I’ve always had great support from [sporting director Jose] Molina.

“I would always carry on, but of course we need to think about what is best for me and what is best for the national team.”

Updated: December 08, 2022, 4:35 AM