“I fought this a lot of times. Before this World Cup we had a lot of problems about guys born in Morocco and Europe. Sometimes people, including some journalists, said I should not invite players born abroad as these guys don’t love Morocco, why not play with the guys born in Morocco?” “We showed to the world that every Moroccan is Moroccan, when he comes with the national team he wants to die, wants to fight.” “I was born in France but nobody can take my heart from my country. My players give 100 per cent. Some players were born in Germany, some in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France and every country has a football culture. You make this milkshake with that and get to the quarter finals.” These were the exact words of Moroccan coach Walid Regragui on Tuesday, December 6, after his side defeated Spain in the round of 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup going on in Qatar. Regragui had not had things go smoothly since becoming the head coach of the Moroccan national team on August 31. He replaced Bosnian tactician Vahid Halilhodzic who, though he qualified the team to the World Cup, had lots of issues especially with Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui. The two players who were born in the Netherlands refused to play for the Atlas Lions after an impasse with the coach. For Regragui, despite Moroccan clubs RS Berkane and Wydad AC dominating African club competitions and their home-based team winning the 2021 African Nations Championships (CHAN), the qualities he had at his disposal were not enough and he still needed the Moroccan players born in the diaspora to augment to the squad. The wave of including players born abroad in national teams has swept across the length and breadth of Africa over the past few years and it is working to perfection. Countries such as Algeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and others used it to achieve success and now Walid Regragui has used it for Morocco at football’s biggest stage. Out of the 26 players he selected for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, 17 of them were born abroad with only nine being born in Morocco. The likes of goalkeeper Yaccine Bono born in Canada, Hakim Ziyech, Noussair Mazraoui and Sofyan Amrabat born in the Netherlands, skipper Romain Saiss born in France and right-back Achraf Hakimi born in Spain have been the live wires of the Moroccan team. On Saturday, December 10, Regragui made history as he became the first coach to qualify an African team to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup. No African team had done that in the competition’s history. Regragui has now made many of the Moroccan journalists who were criticizing his decision to use the majority of players born abroad for the World Cup to swallow their words. The output of the players born in the diaspora has been exceptional. Having previously coached Qatari Premier League side Al Duhail, Regragui knew the terrain very well. With his expertise as the best coach in the Moroccan Premier league with WAC during the 2021/22 season, the reigning CAF Champions League winning coach stood on his grounds to build the Atlas Lions team around the players born abroad and it has worked to perfection. Regragui’s insistence on the decision to use the majority of players born abroad when the media in Morocco were against his choice should be an important lesson that other national team coaches on the African continent should draw inspiration from. Morocco has never lost a single match under Regragui since he took over the team in August as their head coach. Could in-form France end their unbeaten run when they go head to head on Wednesday? Only time will tell!