In the semi-finals at the latest, Walid Regragui will feel like this whole football World Cup is like traveling to another planet.
After just eight games as national coach for Morocco, the 47-year-old, who was born in Corbeil-Essonnes, France, is now fighting for a place in the final in Qatar - against defending champions France. Even before the opponent was decided on Saturday night, Regragui had said: "Why shouldn't we dream of winning a World Cup? It doesn't cost anything to have dreams."
As the first World Cup semi-finalist from Africa, the Moroccans also caused celebrations in German cities. Regragui's team had defended the 1-0 lead through Youssef En-Nesyri (42nd minute) against former European champions Portugal, who only had Cristiano Ronaldo on as a substitute, in Doha for more than half a period. Even then with unbridled passion when the first players of the underdog were struggling with muscle cramps.
"It's very hard to beat us. That's the message I want to send," Regragui said after the triumph at the deafening Al-Thumama Stadium. The 52-cap Morocco international, as a former defender, has ensured his side continue to march through the tournament with just one goal conceded - an own goal in the 2-1 win over Canada. Goalkeeper Bono from FC Sevilla, who was named "Man of the Match" after the quarter-final victory, played a major role in this.
"We've made so many people happy in the world," said his coach, finding a comparison in a boxer legend played by Sylvester Stallone in a famous film: "We're the Rocky of this World Cup. If you like Rocky Balboa, then because of your passion. You have to dream and believe in it."
However, Morocco suffered a lot in their two knockout round victories against Spain and Portugal: FC Bayern's Noussair Mazraoui was absent ill and West Ham's Nayef Aguerd was injured. Captain Romain Saiss of Besiktas Istanbul had to be carried off the pitch injured. Ex-Dortmunder Achraf Hakimi, according to the coach, "felt bad, but he fought."
Substitute Walid Cheddira also saw yellow and red in the hectic final phase. "I have 26 players. If you want to win this tournament you have to believe in everyone," explained Regragui. "If one is injured or sick, another comes in. I hope Mazraoui comes back, he is very important for the team."