Morocco have 'the Arab world behind us' for quarter-final clash with Portugal

Manager Walid Regragui upbeat ahead of World Cup last-eight match on Saturday

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With what he believes to be an entire continent behind his team, Morocco manager Walid Regragui called on his players to create yet more history against Portugal on Saturday.

The North Africans etched their names in the record books on Tuesday, when they defeated Spain on penalties in Qatar to became the first Arab country to reach a World Cup quarter-final.

In doing so, Morocco now sit alongside Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana as the only African nations to go that deep at a global finals.

However, where their trio of predecessors failed - in 1990, 2002 and 2010, respectively - Morocco’s class of 2022 are determined to stand alone as the only African side to reach the tournament’s semi-finals.

They meet Portugal on Saturday, at what will surely be a partisan support in their favour at Al Thumama Stadium.

“We have nothing to lose,” Regragui told reporters on Friday. “The challenge is to do as well as we did in the previous games.

“We want to show that Africa deserves to be here, Morocco deserves to be here. We have a whole people behind us, a continent behind us, and the Arab world behind us. That's a lot of energy behind us. We're going to try and do everything we can.

“We can do it; we can make history again. [The support] can push us, help us actually to play with this pressure, not to make any mistakes.”

Morocco made the knockouts stages for the first time in 36 years by finishing top of a group that contained Belgium, Croatia and Canada. They defeated Belgium, the world No 2-ranked side, and Canada, and drew with 2018 runners-up Croatia.

In the last 16, Morocco triumphed against Spain in the shoot-out to remain unbeaten. They also boast the best defensive record in the tournament, having conceded once in four matches.

Morocco’s run has led to celebrations not only in Doha and back home, but all around the world, especially in countries where the Morocco diaspora live.

"People are identifying with us and we've managed to unite Moroccans behind this football team," Regragui said. "I think that's worth more than anything, it's worth more than money, it's worth more than titles.

"We've made people happy, we've made people proud. But that's not the only reason we're here - we're here to win matches and go as far as we can in this tournament."

Morocco, though, go into the encounter with Portugal sweating on a lot of potential key absentees. Against Spain, centre-back Nayef Aguerd was taken off injured and will be assessed ahead of Portugal, while captain Romain Saiss and midfield lynchpin Sofyan Amrabat are also carrying knocks.

“We're not going to hide it, we're tired,” Regragui said. “But when you go this far in the tournament you have to count on everybody in the squad. So if Nayef cannot play then someone else will have to take his place. We won’t be looking for excuses, we are here on a mission.

"Lots of injuries, people sick. We've played lots of games without people 100 percent. I'm proud for that because nobody has seen Morocco at 100 percent power, but mentally we are strong.”

On Portugal, Regragui said: “It’s a big challenge against one of the best teams in the world. They could field two or three high-quality teams at this World Cup.

“They might be a bit fresher than our guys. I’m not sure if Cristiano Ronaldo plays but I hope he doesn’t. He’s one of the greatest ever and I’d be delighted if he didn’t play against us.”

Regragui, who was appointed only three months ago, added: “We’ve already proven all the data analysts wrong about Belgium’s chance and Spain too. They all thought we’d lose to them.

“We have already achieved great things, but we feel it’s not enough. We want to go further.”

Meanwhile, Portugal manager Fernando Santos said he has been impressed with Morocco to this point, but backed his players to cope with the pressure of contesting a World Cup quarter-final.

"This is a very difficult moment for the players," he said. "They are all at the final phase of the tournament - but, then, this is normal for these players who play for big clubs in top leagues and in the Champions League.

"We have a situation that is exactly the same - anxiety, reaching the final, winning the final....

"I saw so much passion for Morocco in their last game. Passion for their team, for attacking the opponent. We have to deal with that and play well, to put into practice what we are trying to do."

Updated: December 09, 2022, 3:28 PM