Wednesday June 07, 2023

Hakimi fires Morocco into uncharted territory

December 08, 2022

DOHA: If Achraf Hakimi was feeling the weight of expectation on his shoulders as he stepped up to take a history-making penalty for Morocco against Spain, he did not show it.

The defender showed nerves of steel to dink the ball over goalkeeper Unai Simon and seal a 3-0 shootout win over the hapless Spaniards, after the match finished goalless on Tuesday.

The Madrid-born Paris Saint-Germain player steered Morocco into uncharted territory, with the north African side becoming the first from the Arab world to reach the last eight at a World Cup.

Wild celebrations erupted in Morocco and across Europe as the diaspora rejoiced, from Paris to Brussels to Barcelona, while other African and Arab countries felt buoyed by their success.

Although coach Walid Regragui prefers to credit the team rather than individuals, Hakimi is one of his standout players.

A dynamic, explosive presence, he is fond of lung-bursting sprints to join the attack, while maintaining discipline in defence.

Hakimi trained with Spain at youth level, before deciding to pledge his allegiance to the country of his parents.

“I also went to the Spanish national team to try it,” he told Spanish newspaper Marca before the game.

“I was at Las Rozas for a couple of days and I saw that it wasn’t the right place for me, I didn’t feel at home.

“It wasn’t because of anything in particular, but for what I felt, because it was not what I had at home, which is the Arab culture, being Moroccan. I wanted to be here.” Those family bonds have played an important role in sustaining Morocco’s historic charge.