Yassine Bounou has shown patience throughout his career, but the Moroccan goalkeeper with the eye-catching moniker is demonstrating at this World Cup that he more than deserves to be on the big stage.
Bounou, or “Bono,” as his name appears on his shirt, was not included in the squad for either the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations or the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but he was crucial in helping Morocco establish a new standard for African football in Qatar.
With 14 foreign-born players on the team, Morocco has demonstrated its ability to be one team despite its diversity. There is no better illustration of this than the defense, which has only given up a goal in five games.
In their tournament opener, Bounou held Croatia, who finished second in 2018, at bay. After standing with the team for the national anthems before the 2-0 victory over Belgium, he abruptly vanished just before the game.
Bounou was replaced by Munir El Kajoui after the coach Walid Regragui explained that Bounou felt sick after getting hurt against Croatia.
Since his return against his native Canada, the 31-year-old Bounou hasn’t made a single mistake. Despite an own goal by Nayef Aguerd, Morocco prevailed 2-1 to finish unexpectedly first in Group F.
Despite the North Africans needed penalties to defeat Spain in the round of 16, it is amazing that Morocco has not let an opponent to score at this World Cup.
Bounou made saves from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets as Morocco prevailed 3-0 in the shootout to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time. Spain’s first attempt, by Pablo Sarabia, hit the post.
In a 1-0 victory over Portugal, he was once more named player of the game after rejecting five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo in stoppage time to put an end to his World Cup hopes.
“These kinds of moments are difficult to believe,” said Bounou, “but we’ve come to change the mentality, our insecurity. Moroccan players can compete against anyone in the world.”
“I think the most important thing, except the semifinal and that, is that we’ve changed that mentality and the generation after us will know that Moroccan players can do all this.”
LONG ROUTE TO TOP
The achievement of Bounou is a shining example of perseverance paying off.
Bounou was born in Montreal and moved back to Morocco with his family when he was seven. He enrolled in the Wydad Casablanca academy when he was 19 years old, making his debut there in the 2011 CAF Champions League final.
The next year, he joined Atletico Madrid and played two seasons with the reserves before being loaned out to Real Zaragoza in the second level.
With few opportunities at Atletico, he permanently left the team in 2016 for Girona, where he quickly assisted them in gaining promotion to the Spanish top division.
While Munir was Herve Renard’s first-choice goalkeeper for the 2018 World Cup, which was eliminated in the group stage, Bounou has subsequently taken the No. 1 jersey as his own.
Following Girona’s relegation, Bounou joined Sevilla on loan for the 2019–20 season and made a record-breaking six-straight Europa League victories for the Spanish side.
After signing a long-term contract with Sevilla, he quickly ousted Czech international Tomas Vaclik. Last season, he won the Zamora award as the LaLiga goalkeeper with the lowest ratio of goals allowed per game.
“When you have one of the best goalkeepers in the world, it gives you confidence, and Yassine gives us that,” said Regragui after his side knocked out Portugal.
“He’s not someone who thinks he’s someone else. So he helped us a lot. And when Yassine makes that kind of save (against Ronaldo) and gets into the game, we’re virtually unstoppable.”
Morocco, who are now the first African team to go to the World Cup semifinals, have no plans to slow down before a crucial match against the French champions.
“When you are part of the story, you don’t grasp what’s happening very quickly. Everything’s good, we’ll stay focused. We’re happy about what we’ve done so far. But with time, we’ll realise,” said Bounou.
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