Footage of Achraf Hakimi hugging his mother after every memorable victory on Morocco’s road to the semi-finals has gone viral during the World Cup.
They were just some of many special snapshots that captured a memorable and historic tournament for Morocco in Qatar – and they still have one last dance.
Head coach Walid Regragui may have called the third-place play-off a ‘crazy price’, but when Hakimi and Morocco face Croatia on Saturday, it’s an opportunity for the African side to create another festive evening for the supporters who remained in the country.
Paris St-Germain full-back Hakimi has been at the center of Morocco’s trip, and after their semi-final loss to France he tweeted that “the dream of a team, of an entire country, is over “.
But is there another special night ahead from Morocco, which has already become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup?
“The sacrifices led to a positive result”
Hakimi’s status as one of Morocco’s most successful footballers has already been established, and he had his moment in the last 16 in their historic victory over Spain.
After 120 minutes of knife football and in the midst of a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out, Hakimi stepped up with the expectation of a nation on his shoulders to score the winning kick.
He nonchalantly rammed the ball down the middle to spark scenes of wild jubilation – before emotionally celebrating the 3-0 shootout victory with his mother in the stands.
A game before, after the victory against Belgium, Hakimi posted “I love you mom” on social media, alongside an image of her kissing him.
This image was later displayed on a mural in Barcelona after Morocco were eliminated by holders France in the semi-finals. His father had watched the match in a fan park in Madrid.
Hakimi has a lot to thank his family as their heritage has played a big role in his footballing journey and why he has so much love for Morocco.
Although he grew up in Getafe – a suburb of Madrid – Hakimi turned down offers to represent Spain. His mother cleaned houses in the Spanish capital and his father was a street vendor.
“We come from a modest family who struggled to earn a living”, Hakimi said in 2018. “Today, I fight for them every day.
“They sacrificed themselves for me. They deprived my brothers of many things for me to succeed.”
Hakimi’s father said Maghrib Foot: “When Achraf arrived in Madrid, I had to take him every day at 4:30 p.m. and I would return home at 9:30 p.m. I drove 50 km to the training camp and 50 km to my home.
“My message to parents is to make sacrifices if they want their children to succeed. I thank God for everything because the sacrifices I have made have resulted in a positive outcome.
“Achraf’s success makes me proud, especially when I meet people who tell me he is a role model for all Arabs and Moroccans.”
Maternal love could also be on display again on Saturday as Morocco aim to leave Qatar in style, claiming a third-place finish and confirming their status as one of Africa’s greatest teams.
They come up against former Real Madrid Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, but Hakimi and his teammates have already calmed down players like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne.
Hakimi’s link with Mbappe
Hakimi began his footballing journey in Real Madrid youth training before joining Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and current club Paris St-Germain.
He became one of the best right-backs in the world and developed a strong friendship with French superstar and PSG team-mate Kylian Mbappe.
The 24-year-old swapped shirts with Mbappe after clashing at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday and hugged on the pitch despite mixed emotions.
As Mbappe gloated over his victory, Hakimi’s dream of World Cup glory was over – but his achievements with his national team had brought great pride.
“In Paris you play for the city team, but it’s not the same to play with your country’s team”, Hakimi said before the world cup.
“Millions and millions of people are going to support you because you play for them. It’s like playing for your grandfather and his grandfathers. You play for a lot of people, a lot of Moroccans.”
The players prayed in front of the fans and were cheered off the pitch after their semi-final exit, while Hakimi and Mbappe sat together in the tunnel to reflect on their experiences.
It was a scene many did not expect to see in Qatar, as Morocco had to overcome higher-ranked European opponents in Spain, Belgium and Portugal to reach the last four.
They will now face a side from Croatia – who were beaten in the final in 2018 and with whom Morocco drew 0-0 in the group stage in Qatar – in hopes of one last moment of glory.