The tackle that sums up Morocco’s astonishing tournament

The tackle that sums up Morocco’s astonishing tournament – AFP via Getty Images/Antonin Thuillier

If there is one moment that sums up the guts, determination and desire of this fabulous Moroccan team, it was when Sofyan Amrabat chased down the flying machine that is Kylian Mbappe.

The French striker was absent. He was in full flight. He was gone. It was like Gareth Bale in his pump as he raced down the left, sprinted past Amrabat and away from a sliding tackle from Achraf Dari that slipped into the technical area. See you later.

As Mbappe raced towards the Moroccan penalty area, he had five yards on Amrabat but the midfielder kept advancing – at full speed. He just couldn’t give up. Head back, he strained every tendon.

Mbappe slowed, weighing his options, inviting challenge, preparing to push the ball past Amrabat. And then…bang. Mbappe was in a heap and stayed there.

Amrabat not only won the ball but kept it in play and there was an almighty roar of approval from the sea of ​​red Moroccan shirts screaming, swaying and believing inside this vast arena, shaped like a tent, deep in the desert.

If the official attendance of 68,294 was accurate, then 60,000 were Moroccans and thousands more outsiders had made the trip north to Doha despite not having tickets.

There is no doubt that Amrabat was one of the most outstanding artists of this World Cup where he transferred his reputation as an industrialist and responsible in his club, Fiorentina, to that of his country. Amrabat has been the ideal midfield anchor and it’s no wonder that, once again, the 26-year-old is being watched by Premier League clubs.

For Morocco, he is the engine, the engine and in this magnificent race towards the semi-finals, Amrabat won against much more coveted midfielders: the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne, the Spaniard Pedri, the Portuguese Bruno Fernandes and he held firm against France’s Antoine Griezmann.

And to think that Amrabat, like so many patched-up Moroccan players, was far from in top form. In the end, it proved a game too far for the Atlas Lions as they ran out of centre-halves, with captain Romain Saiss limping, his leg already heavily bound, after just 21 minutes with the risk of playing it didn’t work. Already, they had lost another injury doubt, Nayef Aguerd, who withdrew after the warm-up.

Amrabat’s statistics are incredible: against Spain he covered 14.66 km and won seven matches; against Portugal it was the same and it was the same against France. At the start of this match, he had won the ball 41 times – more than any other World Cup player.

Sofyan Amrabat has been a colossal presence in the Moroccan midfield - Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

Sofyan Amrabat has been a colossal presence in the Moroccan midfield – Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

And yet, before the quarter-final against Portugal, Moroccan physios had worked until 3 a.m. in an attempt to relieve Amrabat’s sore back and tense muscles. “They asked me if I was able to play,” he said after the 1-0 win. “I couldn’t let the team and the country down.”

No one could ever accuse him, nor any of the Moroccan players or their passionate coach Walid Regragui of doing this. The way they sang the national anthem before kick-off was emotional and even though they were behind six minutes after conceding just one goal – an own goal – in 450 minutes of football before that encounter, they never gave up. Already.

The second goal with, this time, Mbappe overtaking a tiring Amrabat, finally quieted their support – temporarily. Until then, the noise had been astonishing with piercing whistles when France had possession and incessant chants to support their team – there was even an adaptation of the Icelandic “clap of thunder”.

In added time, Amrabat sprinted to collect a small corner and cross as Morocco simply couldn’t force the ball beyond the goal line. They had chances, so many chances and probably should have had a penalty in the first half when Theo Hernandez fouled Sofiane Boufal. They attacked and attacked. Their spirit was amazing as was their support and their fans cheered and cheered even though the game was over.

Morocco can go home. Their campaign is over but what a World Cup to remember – and that cold-blooded tackle from Amrabat, and the challenge it presented, will be one of the images of this tournament.

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