History-makers Morocco are two wins away from lifting a football World Cup trophy.
The team is yet to be beaten at this year’s tournament and has conceded just once – an own-goal against Canada in the group stages.
Morocco has already gotten the better of big names such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal while drawing against Croatia. But standing between the team and a shot at the trophy is the footballing superpower and reigning champions France, who the Atlas Lions will meet in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
If they manage to overcome France, coach Walid Regragui’s side will then be pitted against either Croatia, runners-up in 2018, or Argentina, 1986 World Cup winners, for world football’s biggest prize on Sunday.
Few would have believed it was possible Morocco would still be in the mix at this stage of the World Cup when the tournament kicked off in Qatar on November 20.
But now optimism is surging through Regragui’s team and among its throngs of supporters, in Qatar, Morocco and across the world.
Can Morocco upset the odds again and conclude their fairytale run in glory?
Who have the Atlas Lions beaten so far?
The Atlas Lions have stunned the footballing world with their magical showing at the World Cup – becoming the first Arab and African country to reach the tournament’s last four throughout its 92 years of existence.
They topped their group after beating Belgium and Canada and drawing against Croatia before stunning Spain in the last 16 with a dramatic win on penalties.
Portugal came and went next, with Youssef En Nesyri’s soaring header securing a historic 1-0 victory for his side, sending them through to the semis and sparking an outpouring of joy among supporters scattered throughout the world.
What can we expect against France?
Morocco will adopt the same tactics against France as they have throughout the tournament.
Regragui’s side will sit deep and hope to blunt the world champion’s array of attacking talent, including superstar forward Kylian Mbappe, while posing a threat on the counterattack.
Morocco’s defence has been resolute in Qatar with just one goal conceded in five matches.
France, who are looking to become the World Cup’s first back-to-back finalists since Brazil in 2002, will provide their toughest test yet.
Mbappe, whose five goals make him the tournament’s leading scorer, is capable of unlocking any backline while fellow forwards Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann have been on fine form in Qatar.
What does Al Jazeera’s AI robot say?
Al Jazeera’s AI robot, Kashef, has crunched the numbers and concluded Morocco face an uphill battle.
Kashef is giving Morocco a 32-percent chance of beating France and making it to the final.
Should the Atlas Lions do so, they have a 43 percent chance of lifting the trophy if they take on Croatia and a 33 percent chance if it is Argentina at Lusail Stadium on December 18.
Reach the final and win it
Coach Regragui has said his players should not just aspire to reach Sunday’s final but to win it.
“In one press conference three or four matches ago, I was asked if we could win the World Cup. And I said, ‘Why not?’ We can dream. Why shouldn’t we dream? If you don’t dream, you don’t get anywhere,” Regragui told reporters on Saturday after the team’s victory over Portugal.
“It doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams. European countries have been used to winning the World Cup,” he added, describing his side as the “Rocky Balboa” of this year’s tournament.
Do Moroccans believe?
Morocco fans, enraptured by their side’s efforts, certainly believe the team stands on the cusp of glory.
Tens of thousands of supporters arrived in Qatar ahead of the Atlas Lions’ last-16 clash and again before the quarter-final. They created a raucous atmosphere during the matches and Wednesday’s clash at the Al Bayt Stadium is expected to feel like a home match for the North African side.
“First time [in the semi-finals]. First time. Wow, wow. History is made,” said Lubna, who came to Qatar from Rabat just for the quarterfinal against Portugal. “Adios Spain, adios Portugal, adios whoever is next. We can win it. Morocco, yes.”
“I still can’t believe it. It doesn’t feel real to me,” Hassan Fadlaoui, 39, said. “It’s been an amazing journey for our people in these past few weeks … something for so many people to feel better about.”
Reem, Najma and Lubna were three more Moroccan supporters who travelled to Doha just for the match against Portugal.
“We’re going back tomorrow morning, but we’ll be back for the semifinal,” Reem said. “Work can take a back seat. In Morocco, nobody will care. We’re all high in World Cup fever.”
“I think we can do anything now,” Lamia of Casablanca said. “For me, the World Cup is already won. Morocco reaching this far in the tournament, this means the entire world to me. Win or not in the semis, the hearts have been won.”
“It’s all the happiness of the world combined in this result. We’re all so, so, so happy,” a group of Moroccan fans at Education City Stadium shouted at the top of their lungs after the win against Spain.
“We were always confident of a win [against Spain]. Because we’re from Morocco, we’re the lions,” Iman, from Casablanca but living in Qatar, said, referring to the team’s nickname Atlas Lions.
“I’m so, so proud to be Moroccan right now, wow, wow, wow. It’s amazing, it’s the best feeling in the world right now,” Khadija said. “I can’t wait for the next match. We’re staying in Qatar. We’re not going home.”