Within just 100 days as Morocco’s manager, Walid Regragui has made history.
The 47-year-old has guided his country to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time ever.
They are only the fourth African team, and the first Arab nation, to reach the last eight, after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.
But Regragui is the first African manager to lead a team to this stage, after they knocked out Spain on penalties.
Regragui replaced Vahid Halilhodzic as Morocco boss only in September. In that time, though, he has united a squad that has 14 players who qualify to play for the team via Moroccan ancestry, having been born elsewhere.
The manager was himself born in France, but last night described his team as “a family, a united team”.
“Sometimes people, including some journalists in this room, said, ‘These guys don’t love Morocco. Why not play with the guys born in Morocco?’,” he said. “We showed the world that every Moroccan is Moroccan. When he comes with the national team, he wants to die, wants to fight.”
Moroccan celebrations spread far and wide last night, with jubilant scenes in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Barcelona.
The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, joined the parties on the streets back home and called Regragui to congratulate him.
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“It’s extraordinary for a Moroccan to receive that call,” Regragui said. “He always encourages us and he gives us advice and he calls on us to give our all. His message is always the same, he is proud of the players and he is proud of us and, as a result, we want to go even further and do even better the next time.”
No one can accuse Morocco of taking the easy route. They topped a group that included 2018 runners-up Croatia and the second-highest ranked team in the world, in Belgium. They have eliminated 2010 winners Spain and the only goal they have conceded in their four games came when their defender Nayef Aguerd scored an own goal.
They have momentum and Arab support in Qatar behind them and believe they can beat Portugal in their quarter-final today.