No African team has ever got this far at a World Cup but the Morocco head coach, Walid Regragui, said his team could have made it all the way to the final on Sunday – when he will be supporting France.
The Atlas Lions are the first team from the continent to reach the semi‑final, where they were defeated by goals from Théo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani, with Regragui revealing that was the target he had set to continue as coach and insisting they must now always qualify for the competition. In the end, he said, this was a game too far for a team that were struggling physically.
Regragui revealed he had no choice but to withdraw Nayef Aguerd just before kick‑off because of flu and then take off Romain Saïss only 20 minutes into the game, but he insisted he had no regrets over risking his captain, despite admitting it contributed to a “poor” start.
“At a World Cup this was perhaps one step too far. Not in terms of quality or tactics, but physically we came up short tonight,” he said. “We had too many players at 60% or 70%. With all our squad fit we could have caused them a lot of problems.”
Morocco caused plenty of problems even with their fitness issues, pushing France all the way to the line and outperforming them for much of the match. They had more of the ball, as many shots on target and hit the post during a second half in which they missed sufficient opportunities to have seen them through.
In the end, a goal five minutes in and another 10 minutes from the end defeated them.
“We are disappointed for the Moroccan people tonight: we wanted to keep the dream alive,” Regragui said.
“We knew we had achieved something great already and that everyone was proud of us. We are pleased with what we have done but felt we could have gone even further. Those small details are what help real champions win and we saw that tonight. I told the players I was proud of them, his majesty is proud, the Moroccan people are proud, the whole world is proud. We worked hard, we were honest, and we showed the values we wanted to show.
“We wanted to rewrite the history books and you can’t do that with a miracle; it takes hard work. We have given a good account of African football and that mattered because we represent our country and our continent. People respected us before and maybe they will respect us even more now. We have to do even better in the future,” he added.
“We went further than Brazil, Spain, Germany, all top sides, but we have to show that regularly if we want Morocco to be on the world footballing map. We might never be as good as Brazil, France, England, but I would like us to qualify for every World Cup. We have proven that Africans can go toe to toe with top teams. We need to work hard to show that it is no accident.”
The France head coach, Didier Deschamps, said his side would need to pay special attention to Lionel Messi after securing their place in a second successive World Cup final.
“Messi has been in scintillating form since the beginning of the tournament, four years ago things were different of course,” Deschamps said. “He is picking up the ball a lot and he is running with it and looking in great form.”