Even then, Morocco did not seem overawed. Regragui’s players did not wilt against the luster, the experience, the contradictions of this curious French team, simultaneously obviously flawed and smoothly imperious.
Morocco did not stutter when a single misjudgment, a little excessive zeal from the central defender Jawad El Yamiq, allowed France to prize an opening goal — finished off by Théo Hernandez — after only five minutes. It was the first goal Morocco had conceded to an opponent since the start of the World Cup.
Nor were they unnerved by losing three of their first-choice defenders to injury by the start of the second half, the mounting cost of their run this deep in the tournament: Nayef Aguerd in the warm-ups before the game; Romain Saiss after the opening exchanges of the first half; Noussair Mazraoui at the break.
Despite all of that, for vast swathes of the game Morocco troubled and tormented France, the reigning champion, the overwhelming favorite rocking further and further back on its heels. Ibrahima Konaté and Raphael Varane rushed around to put out fires as and when they sparked, trusted more to luck than judgment to keep the Moroccan attacks at bay.
Even Kolo Muani’s goal, tapped home from close range with his first touch of the ball, did not draw the sting. The light, then, was fading, but Morocco did not acquiesce. Deep into injury time, all hope almost extinguished, it carved out not one, not two, but three golden opportunities to score, to jar French nerves, to bring its fans — old and new, here and there — one last cause for celebration.
They did not, in truth, need it. At the final whistle, Regragui’s players collapsed on to their backs, all of the air drawn from them. For a while, it was possible to wonder if the tireless Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat, in particular, might need to spend the night there, and make their way home in the morning.
After a while, they lifted themselves and formed, for a few minutes, a tight huddle with their teammates, listening as Regragui told them that Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, was “proud of them, that the Moroccan people were proud of them, that the whole world was proud of this team.”
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