Morocco coach Walid Regragui has no special tactical plan to stop France’s star forward Kylian Mbappe.
The Atlas Lions are the underdog success story of the World Cup, having beat Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route to becoming the first African team to reach a semi-final in the tournament’s history.
France, on the other hand, lost their last meeting with an African side – against Tunisia in the group stage in Qatar – but are aiming to reach the final for a second successive World Cup after their triumph in 2018.
Mbappe has been their driving force, scoring five goals and setting up a further two. No other player in the competition has contributed to as many goals as the 23-year-old, who is the tournament’s top scorer.
Trying to stop Mbappe will be his Paris Saint-Germain club-mate Achraf Hakimi, though Regragui – whose side have conceded only once at the World Cup – does not think Morocco can only focus on one threat.
“[Achraf] knows Mbappe better than me, he trains with him on a daily basis, I’m sure he is better placed than I am to know Kylian,” Regragui said at a press conference.
“I’m not going to set up a plan to counter Mbappe, unfortunately for us France have other great players. [Antoine] Griezmann is on his game, [Ousmane] Dembele on the other wing is a great complement to Mbappe.
“To focus on Mbappe would be a mistake. Hakimi is one of the best in the world in his position too so it will be a great duel between two champions, both going at it hell for leather.
“We shouldn’t focus on Kylian but how we will cause problems for France. I’m sure Hakimi will be on top of his game.”
France might be favourites to go on and reach the final, but Morocco are not here to make up the numbers.
“We want to try and get rid of the mentality we perhaps had before,” Regragui said. “We came with great ambition and to change mindsets in our continent in particular.
“If we say we are happy to reach the semi-final, many people might see that as a success, but I don’t agree.
“We’re one of the best four teams in the world now and we’ll give everything. We’re confident, we’ve had perhaps the most difficult run beating some top sides. The closer we get to the final, the closer we get to our dreams.
“If you get to a World Cup semi-final and you’re not hungry, there’s a problem. We are determined to rewrite the history books, we want Africa to be at the top of the world.
“We know we’re not the favourites but we’re confident, you might call me crazy but I think a bit of craziness is good. We’re not just going through the motions. We’re not satisfied, we want to go further. Everyone is ready to pull off an upset.”
1 – Morocco are the first African team to qualify for the semi-final of a World Cup tournament – each of the previous three African sides to reach a quarter-final were all eliminated at this stage (Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010). Magical.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe)
Regragui’s team have averaged just 31.3 per cent possession across their five games in Qatar, more than only Costa Rica (30.2), while their 39 shots is 16 fewer than any of the other teams left in the tournament.
Yet Morocco’s coach is unconcerned by criticism of his defensive approach, adding: “This idea of possession – it’s amazing how the journalists love these figures but what’s the point if you have no shots? If we can keep the ball we will, but if they don’t let us so be it. We’re going to fight with the tools we have.
“Didier Deschamps is probably the best coach in the world and he knows how to set up a team to win as well.
“A lot of journalists have criticised our style, they don’t like to see a team of our stature playing like a European team – cleverly. African teams before have been praised because they were fun, but they got knocked out.
“Well, those days are over. We want to win now, to win for Africa and for developing countries who are learning you can win.”