Walid Regragui believes the diversity within Morocco’s squad has created the perfect blend after the Atlas Lions made the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
Morocco beat Spain 3-0 on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Education City Stadium on Tuesday.
That sent La Roja out in the last 16 for the second successive World Cup and confirmed Africa has a representative in the quarter-finals for the first time since Ghana in 2010.
Yassine Bounou, who was born in Canada, and Achraf Hakimi, who was raised in Madrid, were the penalty shoot-out heroes, with the goalkeeper saving two of Spain’s spot-kicks before the Paris Saint-Germain full-back chipped home the winner.
For Regragui, it is evidence that Morocco can call on players of Moroccan heritage whether or not they were born within the country.
“I fought this a lot of times,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“Before this World Cup we had a lot of problems about guys born in Morocco and Europe. Sometimes people, including some journalists in this room, said these guys don’t love Morocco, why not play with the guys born in Morocco?
“We showed to the world that every Moroccan is Moroccan, when he comes with the national team he wants to die, wants to fight.
“I was born in France but nobody can take my heart from my country. My players give 100 per cent. Some players born in Germany, some in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France and every country has a football culture. You make this milkshake with that and get to the quarter-finals.”
Regragui is the first African coach to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup, but he does not pay heed to such statistics.
“I don’t care. I fight that,” he added. “Sometimes people say Portuguese coaches or Spanish coaches are the best.
“It’s about competence, not if you’re Arabic or African.
“I’m ambitious and that’s what I give to my players. Maybe when I’m an old man I’ll be happy about that. But I’m proud for my country. It shows you can have a Moroccan coach and do it, you just need confidence.”
4 – Morocco are the fourth African team to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. Achievement.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean)
Having beaten Belgium and topped a group that also included 2018 runners-up Croatia, Morocco are the surprise package in Qatar.
One of the major changes Regragui has made from the previous regime, that of Vahid Halilhodzic, is the recall of Hakim Ziyech.
The Chelsea playmaker was ostracised by Halilhodzic but returned to international football for Regragui, who explained: “What he’s doing is tremendous but the Moroccan people wanted to see him and were encouraging him and he responded to that.
“We need to give him responsibility and he needs to be loved. It’s like Neymar for Brazil, [Kylian] Mbappe for France – you can’t just see him as another player, he’s your best player.
“Some coaches say all players should be treated equally but it’s not the case. Hakim is not just another player, I show him love and respect because it’s what he deserves. Like Achraf [Hakimi], the other players as well. They’ve shown they are prepared to give everything for the national team when they play.”