Doha: Portugal looked impressive in their resounding 6-1 win over Switzerland in a last-16 encounter of the FIFA World Cup, which was achieved with their captain Cristiano Ronaldo sitting on the bench.
Whether the iconic 37-year-old player will make a return to the starting eleven in the quarter-finals against Morocco on Saturday or will he be benched again remains to be seen but one individual who would like him to be confined to the bench is Morocco coach Walid Regragui.
Ronaldo was dropped by Fernando Santos after angering the Portugal coach with an exchange in their final World Cup group game against South Korea.
The absence of the former Manchester United striker was not felt against Switzerland with Goncalo Ramos replacing him and scoring a stunning hat-trick while Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao also found the net.
“I don’t know if Ronaldo will start. I hope he won’t. As a coach, I know he’s one of the best players in history. I’d be delighted if he didn’t play,” Regragui, who coached a local Qatari side Al Duhail for a brief period, said on the eve of the match.
“But we’re not going to focus on Portugal. They’re hungry, they also want to get into the history books. We’re going to have more supporters in the stadium, and we can do it.”
Regragui said his team also aims to make history, with Morocco enjoying their best run at a World Cup. Thirty six years ago, Morocco made history by becoming the first African country to qualify for the World Cup last 16 at the 1986 tournament in Mexico.
They now have a chance to become Africa’s and the Arab world’s first semi-finalists in front of a fervid support, which has been swollen by backing from much of the rest of the region.
“Our players are hungry. We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done so far. It’s a positive feeling for us. We can make history. Yes, we want to show that Morocco deserves to be here. That Africa deserves to be here. Football is global,” he added.
Meanwhile, Regragui is hoping to see more coaches from Africa and the Arab world in Europe, given his team’s success.
Change in mentallity
“Better ask the European clubs ‘why they don’t hire Arab coaches’? It’s a cultural question,” said the 47-year-old, who was born in France and played in France and Spain.
“I want to change that mentality. A whole range of African coaches could train European clubs,” Regragui added.
“Throughout history, people change their minds. African coaches with great results can prove that this can happen. The only benchmark is the skills that a coach has,” he added.