Morocco manager Walid Regragui paid tribute to his players despite the World Cup semi-final defeat to France, saying they had “shown to the world that Moroccan football exists”.
The North Africans, the first Arab country to contest a World Cup quarter-final and then the only African nation to reach the last four, were beaten 2-0 by holders France at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday night.
However, even in defeat, Morocco won plenty of admirers. They went a goal down on five minutes to Theo Hernandez’s volley, but pinned back France for much of the match before substitute Randal Kolo Muani's 79th-minute goal sealed a second successive final for the the reigning champions.
Speaking afterwards, Regragui said: "We gave our all, that's the most important thing. The boys fought until the last minute. We had some injuries, we lost [centre-back Nayef] Aguerd in the warm-up, [on 20 minutes, captain Romain] Saiss, [at half-time, left-back Noussair] Mazraoui... but there are no excuses.
"We paid for the slightest mistake. We didn't get into the game well; we had too much technical waste in the first half, and the second goal kills us, but that doesn't take away everything we did before.
"We wanted to win the game, but we came up against a strong team that knows what it is doing and waits for you to make a mistake, which we made at the beginning of the game.”
Nevertheless, Morocco have become one of the stories of the Qatar tournament. They qualified for the knockout stages for the first in 36 years by finishing top of their group, and then made history by advancing to the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.
Along the way, they defeated Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
"We could have scored, but unfortunately a goal didn't come,” Regragui said on Wednesday. “May the Moroccans forgive us. We wanted to go to the final but... next time, God willing.
"We gave the maximum, that's the most important thing. The most important thing is to have given a good image, to have shown the world that Moroccan football exists and that we have beautiful supporters.
"To reach the very, very highest level, to win a World Cup, we still have to work. But we are not very far away.”
Morocco, never before to this point, will have to dust themselves off to prepare for Saturday’s third-place play-off against Croatia.
"It will be difficult on the mental level," Regragui said. "I will give opportunities to those who did not participate, and we will try to clinch the third place.
"The important thing is that we presented a good look to our team, and that football in Morocco is not far from the top levels."