Even then, Morocco didn’t seem overawed. Regragui’s players didn’t wilt against the luster, the experience, the contradictions of this curious French team, concurrently obviously flawed and easily imperious.
Morocco didn’t stutter when a single misjudgment, a little bit excessive zeal from the central defender Jawad El Yamiq, allowed France to prize a gap goal — finished off by Théo Hernandez — after only five minutes. It was the primary goal Morocco had conceded to an opponent for the reason that start of the World Cup.
Nor were they unnerved by losing three of their first-choice defenders to injury by the beginning of the second half, the mounting cost of their run this deep within the tournament: Nayef Aguerd within the warm-ups before the sport; Romain Saiss after the opening exchanges of the primary half; Noussair Mazraoui on the break.
Despite all of that, for vast swathes of the sport 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 place out fires as and once they sparked, trusted more to luck than judgment to maintain the Moroccan attacks at bay.
Even Kolo Muani’s goal, tapped home from close range together with his first touch of the ball, didn’t draw the sting. The sunshine, then, was fading, but Morocco didn’t acquiesce. Deep into injury time, all hope almost extinguished, it carved out not one, not two, but three golden opportunities to attain, to jar French nerves, to bring its fans — old and recent, here and there — one last cause for celebration.
They didn’t, in fact, need it. At the ultimate whistle, Regragui’s players collapsed on to their backs, the entire air drawn from them. For some time, it was possible to wonder if the tireless Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat, particularly, might have to spend the night there, and make their way home within the morning.
After some time, they lifted themselves and formed, for a number of minutes, a decent huddle with their teammates, listening as Regragui told them that Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, was “pleased with them, that the Moroccan people were pleased with them, that the entire world was pleased with this team.”