Morocco press hails team as World Cup dream ends just shy of final
Morocco Coach Walid Regragui attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on Friday on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup third-place match against Croatia. (Photo: AFP)

RABAT, Morocco (AFP) — Moroccan media hailed the national football team as the country digested its defeat to France on the doorstep of the World Cup final, ending a history-making run.

"Morocco went out with honour and with their heads high," the Lakome2 news website said.

The "Lions of the Atlas" were the first Arab or African team ever to reach a semi-final in 92 years of football's top tournament.

A string of victories, including over Belgium, Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, "allowed Arabs and Africans to hold their heads high", wrote sports outlet Al-Mountakhab.

"We can't fault the Lions of the Atlas, even if we had dreamed of reaching the final," it said.

Sports website Le360sport said the team's "epic" run had been hit by "physical glitches" in the back line — a reference to defender Romain Saiss's thigh injury early in the game and the withdrawal of centre back Nayef Aguerd just moments before the start.

News site Le Desk noted that the team had missed "several opportunities to score".

But most of the coverage was gushing.

Even the habitually sober business journal L'Economiste sang the team's praises, saying they should be added to the "Pantheon of football".

Reaching the semi-final of a World Cup, "a first for an African team, is a starting point, not a destination", it said.

Social media was flooded with a mix of praise for the team and criticism of the referee.

"Our sadness at being defeated mustn't let us forget the joy we've experienced," one user wrote.

Another lauded the team for their "sacrifices" and fighting spirit. "Thank you for having restored faith and smiles to a people who desperately needed it."

US-based Middle East cultural magazine the Markaz Review said that "for the millions watching... it felt like the ultimate showdown".

But, it said, "players on both teams fought valiantly and treated each other to hugs and moral support, suggesting a sea change in international relationships between former colonies and their European nemeses.

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