Fired-up Morocco out to join Senegal in World Cup round of 16

Morocco's coach Hoalid Regragui attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 30, 2022, on the eve of their Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Canada.
 

Photo credit: Fadel Senna | AFP

What you need to know:

Canada, who topped the Concocaf qualifiers, are winless in five World Cup matches and will be keen to bow out of Qatar with a first ever win.

  • No doubt, Al Thumama Stadium that has a 40,000-seat capacity will be filled to the brim with the huge and noisy Moroccan support here in Doha that has exuberantly painted the town red on their match days.

Morocco are poised to become the second African team to qualify for the second round of the World Cup here in Doha.

They face already eliminated Canada in their final Group F match at the Al Thumama Stadium from 6pm on Thursday needing just a draw to achieve only their second entry into the second round from six appearances at this level.

The Atlas Lions wrote history by becoming the first African nation to qualify for the round of 16, back in Mexico 1986, and that was when the World Cup was a 24-team affair.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui left no doubt that they were flying the Moroccan and African flag when he was asked if he thought they were also playing for the Arab world that is hosting its first World Cup.

“I am not here to be a politician. We want to fly the flag of Africa high just like Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon. We want to represent Africa. I hope an African team will reach the final,” the France-born Regragui said at a pre-match press conference at the Main Media Centre housed at the Quarter National Convention Centre in Doha.

Senegal qualified for the last 16 on Monday after beating Ecuador 2-1 to finish second in Group A.

Regragui said he wanted Morocco to hold their destiny in their own hands and would be going for nothing short of a win against the Canadians.

“We have the same plan we always have. We play to win. We know Canada want to make their own history in this tournament. They want to win. They are very intense, so we have to be smart. Our aim is to make it to the second round. We want to be in charge of our own destiny and not rely on the result of the other game,” the Atlas Lions coach, three months old on this hot seat, revealed his hand.

Morocco are tied on four points with Croatia, who lead the group on goal difference.

Belgium are third on three points and must beat Croatia in their last match, also on Thursday  from 6pm at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.

Morocco confounded many punters by collecting four points from European giants Belgium and Croatia to stay in contention for a round of 16. They held the 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia to a barren draw on November 23 before stunning the number two ranked country in the world by Fifa, Belgium, four days later to announce the Lions of Atlas were here to contest and not just make the numbers for the group matches.

“We are here to qualify,” the 47-year-old Regragui emphasised. “In the beginning when you told me that after two games (versus Croatia, Belgium) we would be poised to qualify I would not have known but we are here and we want to progress.”

Morocco have been well organised in play and have the excellent 29-year-old Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech to lead their offence.

Canada, who topped the Concocaf qualifiers, are winless in five World Cup matches and will be keen to bow out of Qatar with a first ever win.

No doubt, Al Thumama Stadium that has a 40,000-seat capacity will be filled to the brim with the huge and noisy Moroccan support here in Doha that has exuberantly painted the town red on their match days.

Will it be number two for Africa?

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