'It's like a dream' - Morocco's 'unbelievable' World Cup run & best moments from Qatar

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Morocco 2022
Morocco made history in 2022 as they became one of the top four international teams in the world

Did you know that Casablanca's Wydad had more representation in the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup than a number of global football giants, including Manchester United, Barcelona and Chelsea?

When Morocco overcame Portugal to book their place in the last four of the competition in Qatar, they shocked the world and made history as the first African nation to reach such a stage.

Casablanca celebrated, taking enormous pride in the fact that Wydad's Yahya Jabrane, Yahia Attiyat Alla and Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti were part of the story. Joy spilled into the streets of Rabat, Marrakesh and among emigrant communities across the world too.

Here, GOAL takes a look back at some of the best moments from Morocco's historic World Cup semi-final run in 2022.

  1. How Achraf Hakimi led from the start 💪
    Getty Images

    How Achraf Hakimi led from the start 💪

    Having been drawn in something of a Group of Death alongside Belgium, Croatia and Canada, Morocco needed to hit the ground running and they did that with a battling display against Luka Modric and Croatia.

    The Atlas Lions defended resolutely against their much-fancied Balkan opponents and the magnitude of their efforts was encapsulated by the performance of Achraf Hakimi, who led his side impressively into their first skirmish of the tournament.

    Hakimi was everywhere during the game, cutting out danger at the back and initiating forays into the other end of the pitch at every opportunity. He even went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock with a thunderous free kick.

    The game finished scoreless, but Morocco were content and got a crucial point on the board.

  2. The uproarious joy of beating Belgium 🎉
    Getty Images.

    The uproarious joy of beating Belgium 🎉

    When Morocco and Belgium were drawn together in Group F, calendars would have been marked.

    While the two sides are not traditional rivals, the presence of a huge Moroccan community in Belgium gave the fixture added intrigue.

    Belgium arrived in Qatar as one of the pre-tournament favourites, boasting, as they did, talents such as Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtous and Eden Hazard, and they won their first game against Canada.

    However, Morocco refused to roll over and held firm against their more vaunted opponents before stunning the world with an opening goal on the 73rd minute via Besiktas defender Roman Saiss.

    The Atlas Lions compounded Belgium's woes in added time when Zakaria Aboukhlal latched on to Hakim Ziyech's cut-back to make it 2-0.

    The victory resonated across Morocco and beyond, with riots even breaking out in places like Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam.

    Crucially, it put Walid Regragui's side in the driving seat for qualification to the knockout round and they secured top spot with a confident 2-1 win over Canada in the final match.

  3. Hakimi's celebrations with his mother ❤️

    For many Morocco fans, Achraf Hakimi's celebrations with his mother became one of the defining images of the World Cup.

    The Paris Saint-Germain full-back made sure to embrace his mum after each game and she, naturally, showered him with motherly affection.

    So iconic was the moment that murals appeared depicting it, including in Barcelona.

  4. Penalty perfection against Spain ⭐️
    Getty Images

    Penalty perfection against Spain ⭐️

    Morocco's success in Group F meant that they were drawn against the runners-up from Group E and that was Spain - previous world and European champions. Had the Atlas Lions not performed so well, they might have been drawn against Japan.

    As with the Belgium game, the tie against Spain had added zeal to it thanks to the huge Moroccan population living in Spain. Indeed, Achraf Hakimi was born in Madrid, while a number of Morocco stars play in La Liga, including Yassine "Bono" Bounou among others.

    As it turned out, those players would prove decisive in what was a closely contested game, with Bounou saving two penalties in the shootout and Hakimi sealing victory with a cool Panenka penalty.

    Not only did Morocco show adventure and belief, they demonstrated their winning nerve against seasoned opposition. Roll on the Rabat street celebrations!

  5. Punishing Cristiano Ronaldo & Portugal 👊
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    Punishing Cristiano Ronaldo & Portugal 👊

    After beating the mighty Spain in the last 16, Morocco's path was then blocked by Portugal, who stood in the way of a place in the semi-final. The Selecao had beaten Switzerland and topped their group, but questions lingered thanks to the declining form of Cristiano Ronaldo among other things.

    Nevertheless, with star quality in the form of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix, they still had plenty for Morocco to worry about and went into the game as hot favourites.

    Buoyant after victories over Spain and Belgium, however, Morocco believed they could spring another upset and they did precisely that, by defending stoutly and nicking a goal through Youssef En-Nesyri. Ronaldo's last dance was ruined as the history train rolled into the semi-final.

    After the game, Sofyan Amrabat told the BBC: "It's really unbelievable, I'm so proud. It's like a dream - unbelievable we're in the semi-final. We deserve this, 1000 per cent. How we fight, how we play, with our heart for our country for the people - it's unbelievable.

    "Our spirit, we have injuries, three defenders came in and how they defend, big respect. Respect everyone, the coach, the team, the staff."

  6. Bono's Beautiful Days

    Bono's Beautiful Days

    Yassine 'Bono' Bounou became the first African goalkeeper to save a penalty at a World Cup at the tournament, but his reactions were crucial in keeping Morocco in games throughout the journey.

    His net was unperturbed against Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. Not bad when you consider the firepower he was up against!

  7. Journey ends against France ⌛️
    Getty Images

    Journey ends against France ⌛️

    All good things must come to an end and unfortunately for Morocco, their historic journey stopped at the semi-finals as France put an end to their upset wagon.

    The Atlas Lions suffered an early blow when Theo Hernandez scored after five minutes and that changed the entire dynamic of the game. They could no longer afford to be as defensive as they were in previous ties as they chased the game and Les Bleus showed their battle-hardened senses to see out the game with minimal fuss.

    A third-place play-off against group-stage foes Croatia followed and Morocco came up short once again, losing 2-1.

    There was natural disappointment at the losses, with a complaint filed against referees and Hakimi was among those to vocally protest, making his views heard to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

    Still, Morocco bowed out of the 2023 World Cup as valiant history makers and that can never be taken away from them.

  8. Homecoming - 'Football in Morocco exists!' 🇲🇦

    After being knocked out by France, Morocco head coach Walid Regragui remarked: "The most important thing is to have shown a good face, to have shown that football in Morocco exists and that we have great supporters."

    Despite coming up short, losing against France in the semi-final then Croatia in the third-play-off, Regragui's troops were given a heroes' welcome on their return to Rabat, with thousands of supporters lining the streets to lavish them with praise and adulation.

    They had, after all made history for Morocco - and Africa.

    "Thank you for your unconditional support," wrote Hakimi in acknowledgement of the fans. "Today was a special day."