DOHA, Qatar — Fatima Regragui is in her late 60s. When her son Walid was an expert participant — he had spells within the French leagues with groups equivalent to Toulouse and Ajaccio, whereas additionally making 45 appearances for Morocco — she by no means travelled anyplace to see him in motion. Not even when he was taking part in in Paris, the place she lives, and the place Walid was born 47 years in the past. Not as soon as.
Yet she has been in Doha for the reason that begin of the FIFA World Cup, sorted by the Moroccan FA like all of the visiting households of gamers and employees. And it is honest to say that she has been her son’s fortunate attraction.
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Walid Regragui’s story on this event is a football fairy tale. Eight months in the past, when the Atlas Lions certified for Qatar 2022, the previous right-back would by no means have imagined that he’d have sat on the bench of the nationwide staff throughout the event. There had been rumours about him changing Vahid Halilhodzic on the helm, however they by no means went additional. Yet on Wednesday, he’ll face Didier Deschamps’ France for a spot within the World Cup ultimate.
Regragui grew up on the Montconseil council property in Corbeil-Essonnes, within the suburbs to the south of Paris. His dad was a builder, who requested his son solely to do effectively in school. So Walid did. He was sensible, incomes his baccalaureate diploma earlier than going to a college to check economics.
Meanwhile, his profession took off within the decrease leagues, starting within the fifth division and progressing all the way in which to Ligue 1; it began with Rudi Garcia, the previous Lille, AS Roma and Lyon supervisor, who started his managerial profession years in the past in Corbeil.
“Rudi changed my life,” Regragui stated. “I was 19 when he coached me and told me that I could become pro.”
On Wednesday, Garcia can be within the commentary field for French tv on the Al Bayt Stadium for his pal’s most vital sport.
For all of the individuals who know Regragui or have met him throughout his taking part in profession — together with France striker Olivier Giroud, who loved one preseason coaching camp with him in 2007 at Grenoble — it was by no means unsure that the Parisian was going to be a supervisor after he stopped taking part in.
“He was highly intelligent, way above average. And he was liked by every player in every dressing room. His social skills were fantastic,” stated Roland Courbis, who managed him at Ajaccio.
Those social abilities — Regragui additionally speaks French, Arabic and English — are what enabled him to deliver again Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui to the nationwide staff. Both of them had refused to play below Halilhodzic. After a chat with Regragui, they got here again and are very important cogs on this improbable journey.
Before taking up Morocco following Halilhodzic’s exit, Regragui gained the African Champions League with WAC Casablanca, defeating Al-Ahly 2-0 in May. It was a type of self-validation that he was prepared for extra. Even although he did not count on to interchange Halilhodzic in August so near the beginning of the World Cup, he took the chance with open arms.
It’s price noting there was no quick strain on Regragui to excel in Qatar: the one factor talked about in his contract was a aim of reaching at the very least the semifinals on the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations. Initially, the World Cup was seen as a bonus, however not anymore.
Out of the 26 gamers referred to as up by the supervisor, 14 weren’t born in Morocco, and a few even performed on the youth stage for the international locations of their start (Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Italy) earlier than selecting to signify the nation of their dad and mom or grandparents. Regragui’s success comes all the way down to how he is been in a position to unite these gamers and make this squad gel.
Craig Burley is stuffed with reward for Morocco’s efficiency and resilience after they change into the primary African staff to make it to a World Cup semifinal.
“We are a real team, a real squad, where everyone fights for each other and that’s all down to him,” playmaker Sofiane Boufal instructed ESPN.
Morocco misplaced two starters in Imran Louza and Amine Harit — the latter arrived in Doha on Monday to help the staff — by means of damage earlier than the event, which was an enormous blow, however Regragui regrouped everybody and located the proper replacements and options.
His defensive-minded 4-3-3 formation is strong and his squad is well-drilled, with each man understanding his function. Morocco boast one of the best defence of the competitors, conceding only one aim in 5 video games, and with the ball, they rely closely on Boufal and Ziyech. But it really works and they won’t change something.
There is little question that Regragui is destined for excellent issues as a supervisor. After Morocco, he’s focusing on a job in Ligue 1, however proper now there may be nonetheless a trophy to win. Regragui and his gamers made historical past by turning into the primary African nation to achieve the semifinals of a World Cup.
Now Fatima, and all the opposite moms and kin of this distinctive squad, are decided to return residence with the trophy.