We are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup, says Morocco coach Walid Regragui


Just like an oasis stands out in a desert, the Moroccan team has stood out in the sea of footballing talent on view at this World Cup.

On Saturday night, when Youssef En-Nesyri (42nd  minute) rose above all at the Al Thumama Stadium to head home what turned out to be the match-winner against Portugal, he also lifted a tiny nation and placed them among the high and mighty of the footballing world. 

Portugal’s superstars like Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and even the great Cristiano Ronaldo had no answer to the grit and pure heart shown by the Moroccan underdogs.

Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri (right) heads to score against Portugal in the World Cup quarter-final at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Saturday. Pics/Getty Images

Their coach Walid Regragui drew a reel-life parallel to the Hollywood blockbuster Rocky, where underdog boxer Sylvester Stallone aka Rocky Balboa, punches his way to glory. “This is no miracle. Many in Europe may think it is. But we have beaten Belgium, Spain and now Portugal without conceding a goal and that can only be done with hard work. My players have shown heart and commitment, just like Rocky [Balboa]. When you watch Rocky you support him because of his heart and commitment. We are the Rocky of this World Cup. We have shown the world that you can achieve even if you don’t have as much talent or quality or money, but are willing to work hard,” an elated Regragui, 47, said at the post-match press conference after his team became the first African and Arab nation to storm into the World Cup semi-finals. 

Also Read: Sylvester Stallone: Know the man behind the muscle

Not fair for us to lose: Santos

Portugal coach Fernando Santos admitted his opponents were a hard nut to crack. “We watched their match against Spain so we knew about their defensive strategy. We needed to be creative, we needed to challenge the ball and score goals, but we failed. It’s not fair for us to lose, but this is football. You need luck too. And I must give credit to Morocco,” said Santos. 

Morocco coach Walid Regragui

Ronaldo, 37, once again came off the bench only in the second half, but before him, both Felix and Fernandes failed to breach the defence of Morocco’s superstar goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, 31. 

The tall (six-feet, four inches) custodian dived either side to comfortably ward off their shots. 

Ronaldo made a brilliant late attempt too, when he hammered in a running ball from the right, but Bounou got down to thwart it easily. 

Bounou, who plays in goal for Spanish side Sevilla, was aptly named Player of the Match a second time (first being when he denied Spain thrice during their Round-of-16 penalty shootout). But he handed the trophy to teammate En-Nesyri. 

Also Read: FIFA World Cup 2022: Morocco goal keeper Yassine Bounou disappears before the kickoff

Goalie Bounou hails team effort

“Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming,” was Bounou’s reaction when asked to describe the feat.

“It’s really hard to find the words to describe this moment. I’ve got this title only because I have great players in my team. I just want to thank my teammates for their hard work and our supporters, who had our backs,” added Bounou, who later re-entered the pitch to play football with his two-year-old son, probably sowing the seeds of yet another future Moroccan World Cup superstar. 



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