Morocco: Surprise team of Qatar FIFA World Cup | By Engr Qaiser Nawab

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Morocco: Surprise team of Qatar FIFA World Cup

WITH a sensational and superb knockout victory against Spain on Tuesday, the lone champion of the Arab world, Morocco, has qualified for the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, for the first time in the tournament’s history.

The Moroccan team is the only Arab nation and the fourth African team (after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010) to advance to the last eight in Qatar, with a five-game unbeaten streak in the World Cup fixtures.

Being 22nd-ranked in football rankings, the Moroccan team has made history by beating Spain, the tournament’s seventh-ranked team, causing yet another significant upset in a World Cup which has been filled with surprises.

The Atlas Lions wrote their names in the record books as they progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, an event that has been held for the first time in the Arab World’s nearly 100-year history.

The overall game between Morocco and Spain remained really intense till the time it proceeded to a more thrilling climax of penalties, following a scoreless draw.

Morocco withstood a persistent attack from a Spanish team that attempted more than twice as many shots and completed more than four times as many passes.

However, the ball never reached the back of the net. The Moroccon team, to everyone’s great surprise, prevailed against all odds over their heavily favored opponents and beat them in a 3-0 penalty shootout.

It was exhilaration for Morocco and absolute sorrow for Spain which was unable to get through the Moroccan defence, despite having 77 percent control of the ball, thus making Morocco the first African country to advance in the World Cup on penalty kicks.

Three beautiful penalty goals as well as Bounou’s fantastic defence saving two goals and Hakimi, with a clever chip while his team was under enormous pressure, created history for both his side and his country.

As Achraf Hakimi netted the game-winning penalty, the elated players showed their gratitude to God for the victory by falling to their knees and expressing their thanks while celebrating their triumph.

The Atlas Lions’ fans outnumbered those of Spain by such a significant margin, making it seem like a home game for the Moroccan team.

The supporters were overjoyed beyond words and were seen hugging and jumping with their friends and family.

The World Cup in Qatar has also brought together supporters of teams from different areas, with Arab fans cheering fervently for neighboring nations in matches against the elite of the football world.

Due to the high performance of Morocco the entire region is throwing its support for the team The Atlas Lions have garnered support from fans in countries other than Morocco, with displays of euphoria breaking out in Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza following the completion of the kingdom’s group matches.

Previously, Morocco’s best finish in a World Cup was in the pre-quarter-finals in 1986, therefore reaching the quarter-finals of this tournament has been a major achievement for the team.

In fact, at this point in the World Cup, given the performance of the Atlas Lions, they have played four matches and given up only one goal, that too an own goal after a wicked deflection.

In this year’s World Cup, Morocco has been the biggest surprise team in the tournament. It is the first African team this century to win its group by sweeping Belgium and Croatia in the first round, both of which finished in the top three at the previous World Cup.

The team’s historic run further continued with a victory after defeating the 2010 world champions, Spain, at Qatar’s Education City Stadium.

Moreover, the amazing team has also gone 390 minutes without conceding a single goal. Now the so-called Atlas Lions are just a few steps closer to writing their names into the annals of history if they claim victory over Portugal in the last eight tie, this Saturday, and become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals.

As, some of the fiercest rivalries in international football often occur between countries that share a border or even a continent, which typically results in more games and more opportunities to fan the flames of rivalry.

Therefore, a victory against a border rival always makes it much more special and greater and adds significance to the win.

The national football team is indeed a pride of Morocco and a jewel of Africa. With their passionate and boisterous fans and the whole of the country behind them, I am confident Morocco can again make history by progressing even further in this FIFA tournament and for more successes to come its way.

—The writer is a Pakistani Climate Youth Leader, UN SDGs Advocate and an expert on Youth Development in the Global South.