Morocco are up against France in the country’s first World Cup semi-final on Wednesday evening.
Walid Regragui oversaw a feat no other African nation has ever achieved – but he was quick to dismiss any suggestion that the continent’s first World Cup semi-final was a fluke. “If you work hard enough, and you show that desire, that passion and belief, then you can succeed,” he said. “It’s no miracle.”
Here’s the XI Regragui may select against the reigning world champions, in search of a victory even he may concede would verge on the miraculous.
Morocco predicted lineup vs France (4-3-3)
GK: Yassine Bounou – “Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” Morocco’s pillar between the sticks gasped after a player of the match display against Portugal.
RB: Achraf Hakimi – In a matchup befitting the highest calibre of competition, Hakimi will be directly up against his PSG teammate – and good buddy – Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday night. “See you soon my Friend”, Hakimi tweeted.
CB: Jawad El Yamiq – Regragui was forced to change half of his first-choice back-four for the quarter-final. El Yamiq scarcely put a foot wrong as one of the replacements – though kissing Pepe’s bald scalp wasn’t a move many would make.
CB: Badr Benoun – Unless Romain Saiss can make another miraculous recovery after getting stretchered off against Portugal, Benoun is an option to replace the nation’s skipper.
LB: Yahya Attiyat Allah – The creator of Youssef En-Nesyri’s winning goal, Regragui can rely upon the left-back that started every game of Wydad’s Champions League triumph under the national team coach in May.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – Spain manager Luis Enrique couldn’t remember the name of the Moroccan midfielder but tentatively admitted: “I was pleasantly surprised by the number eight.” Enrique added: “But this boy hasn’t stopped running. We’ve talked about it in the staff. Spectacular.” Didier Deschamps – and more – will certainly know who Ounahi is.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – The heartbeat of Morocco’s midfield has been playing with painkilling injections during the knockout rounds which have done nothing to dull his effervescent displays.
CM: Selim Amallah – One of 14 players in the squad – more than half – born outside of Morocco but no less integral to the enthralling success of the national team.
RW: Hakim Ziyech – Morocco’s wily creator is cunning off the ball as well as on it, registering more fouls than any other player at the World Cup yet to be shone a yellow card.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – Following in the footsteps of Emmanuel Kunde, Eugene Ekeke and Sulley Muntari, En-Nesyri became the fourth African to score in a World Cup quarter-final – but the first to net the winning goal.
LW: Sofiane Boufal – After damaging his big toe by running into his kitchen table, Boufal made just four more Premier League starts for Southampton before returning to Ligue 1. It would taken a whole raft of broken extremities to sideline Boufal this coming Wednesday.