Moroccans trust national pride to carry Atlas Lions to victory against Portugal

Former goalkeeping star Mustapha Chedly says team's chances of making history are boosted by years of careful planning and training

Fans of Morocco cheer at the Souq Waqif market in Doha, Qatar, before their World Cup quarter-final match against Portugal. EPA
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As anticipation built in Morocco for the national team's historic World Cup quarter-final against Portugal, the inspirational stories of both the players and their coach were the talk of the town in Casablanca.

“We can see that members of this team have great communication and that their love for their nation is making them rise above any challenges,” Ibrahim, a taxi driver who was sporting a hat with national colours, told The National.

Mustapha Chedly, the most awarded goalkeeper in Morocco’s history and one of the trainers of the current team's goalkeepers, agreed that the communication between the Moroccan players was exceptional.

“Our goal was to train a young homogeneous team with great physical and technical capacities,” Chedly told The National.

“The group that you are seeing today was not the fruit of mere coincidence, it came after three consecutive years of hard work and betting on the players' pure love for their country.”

Chedly said he was not surprised by the team's outstanding performance so far.

“The tactical design of [national coach Walid] Regragui and the mental and physical preparation that the trainers have drawn up for the team all paid off,” he said.

With both quarter-finals on Friday decided by penalty shoot-outs, the importance of goalkeepers has come to the fore in this World Cup.

“You can’t reach the podium if you do not have a great goalkeeper,” Chedly said, speaking at the Number One cafe in Casablanca, which he owns and has named after the shirt number he sported while playing for Raja Club.

Like many Moroccans, Chedly sees today’s match as an opportunity to represent football in Africa and the Arab world in a new light, despite the difficult challenge the Portuguese team presents.

“With the great boost given to the team after the recent wins and the presence of a great audience to cheer for them in Qatar, we will hopefully write history,” Chedly said.

Many Moroccans are also counting on another factor Chedly has highlighted before.

“There’s no other love that could be as big as people’s love for their country, and with that love carried in their hearts, we trust that our kids will bring us happiness tonight,” said Ibrahim, the taxi driver.

Updated: December 10, 2022, 3:05 PM