DOHA, Qatar (AP) — His nation on the verge of reaching the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Morocco coach Walid Regragui downplayed his role.
“There are other coaches that like to make you think that they’re magicians, they’re the ones, they’re puppeteers,” Regragui said through a translator on Wednesday. “The players are the ones that make the coach and not the other way around.”
Morocco would advance with a victory or a draw on Thursday against already-eliminated Canada and also could reach the round of 16 with a loss depending on the result of Belgium’s match with Croatia. The Atlas Lions opened with a 0-0 draw against Croatia before upsetting second-ranked Belgium 2-0 on goals by Romain Saïss and Zakaria Aboukhlal.
Regragui, who replaced Vahid Halilhodži? in August, said if his tactics had not worked against Belgium, “it was something that probably would have had plenty of Morocco after my skin.”
Morocco would play Spain, Germany, Japan or Costa Rica in the knockout stage. The North African team advanced in 1986 with 0-0 draws against Poland and England, followed by a 3-1 win over Portugal. West Germany won the round of 16 match 1-0 when Lothar Matthäus scored on a 30-yard free kick in the 88th minute.
Morocco and Canada have met once previously, a 4-0 victory by the Atlas Lions in a 2016 friendly as Hakim Ziyech scored twice.
Ziyech, a 29-year-old Chelsea midfielder, was dropped by Halilhodži? but returned to the national team in September under Regragui after a 15-month absence.
“A lot of people talk about him, about he is a crazy guy, he is a difficult guy to manage, he can’t help the team,” Regragui said. “For me, what I say, when you give him the love, the confidence, he can die for you. And it’s what I give him. ... He is a big player, playing on a big team in Europe and you see he is a different player with the national team. All of the coaches give him the confidence, the same with the staff.”
Canada is 0-5 in World Cup play, failing to score in its only other appearance in 1986. After outplaying Belgium for most of their opener this year, but losing 1-0, they took an early lead against Croatia but lost 4-1.
Alphonso Davies scored Canada’s first World Cup goal, putting the team ahead 68 seconds in with the fastest goal of this year’s tournament.
“It could have been very easy to park the bus, to park the airplane in front of our net,” Canada defender Steven Vitória said. “The future I think is very clear, very bright. And I know Canada is proud. I'm very excited for the growth of this team.”
Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was feeling better and “he's ready for the game tomorrow,” according to Regragui. Bounou felt ill before the game against Belgium and was replaced by Munir El Kajoui just before kickoff.
Canada coach John Herdman said he didn't shake hands with Zlako Dali? after the Croatia game because the opposing coach had run down the sideline to celebrate with his players. Herdman said they exchanged a handshake pregame.
Canada midfielder Stephen Eustáquio left at halftime against Croatia because of a hamstring injury.
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