Morocco’s miraculous run at the World Cup ends in defeat

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Morocco’s miraculous World Cup run is over, and it ended with another loss.

After making history by becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, Morocco lost to Croatia 2-1 on Saturday in the match for third place at Khalifa International Stadium.

“Of course we’re disappointed, but when we wake up tomorrow we will realize how much we have achieved,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said. “Some of my players weren’t 100% fit but they gave everything to the end. I am very proud.”

He has a reason to be. Morocco’s showing in Qatar provided the most surprising story of the World Cup. The Atlas Lions were also the first Arab nation to go so far in the tournament, sparking an outpouring of pride among Arab countries during an event being held in the Middle East for the first time. Celebrations spread from Gaza City to Cairo. In Doha, the Moroccan community felt at home.

“We’re very proud that all these Moroccans are behind us and it gives us great strength to go into the games,” Morocco midfielder Ilias Chair said. “The fan support was unbelievable. If you look at the games, it felt like we were playing in Casablanca.”

Regragui said he wouldn’t change a thing about this year’s World Cup.

“We had 0.01% of winning this World Cup at the outset. We managed to get through to the last four,” the coach said. “We played against some of the footballing powerhouses of the world.

“We’re now one of the top four teams in the world and if you had told me that before the World Cup and that Morocco would be No. 4 in the world, I would have accepted that straight away.”

The triumphant run will also have a positive impact for generations of children in Morocco, Regragui said.

“Football makes people dream and children in particular. In Morocco and Africa, we have kept those dreams alive. It means more than a victory at the World Cup,” the coach said. “As for the impact on our country, we have set the bar high and the expectations from our supporters will be high. We have made a fantastic achievement but we want to do that again. It will always be tough for an African country to reach the semifinals but what we want now is to get through the group stage every time and one day we will win the World Cup.”

Morocco topped a group that included Croatia, which reached the 2018 final, and second-ranked Belgium. The team then progressed past favorites Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages before losing to defending champion France 2-0 in one of its best performances.

“It’s a proud moment, a dream come true. I couldn’t be prouder than this,” Chair said. “A little bit disappointed, obviously, because we deserved more as a team, but also a very proud moment because we wrote history.”

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AP Soccer Writer James Robson contributed to this report.

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