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‘Bit of intitution, bit of luck’: Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou on penalty saves to eliminate Spain

Born in Canada to Moroccan parents, the 31-year-old goalkeeper reduced grown men to tears as he lifted his country to the unprecedented highs of a quarterfinal at the 2022 World Cup.

Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou dives as the ball hits the post from Spain's Pablo Sarabia during a penalty shootout the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (AP)
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Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou has a history of seizing the bigger moments in football. At the 2022 World Cup, it was when he completed an assured game as a goalkeeper who could pass out from the back while also making two key saves in a penalty shootout against Spain to drop the 2010 World Champions out of the World Cup.

“You know penalties, it’s a little bit of intuition, a little bit of luck,” Bounou said to beIN Sports.

But a few years back, he had relegated a 122-goal, record-setting Manchester United team to their third trophy defeat of the season. Playing for Sevilla as their first-choice goalkeeper, Bounou made six saves on a night when United tried frantically to make a comeback into the game. He repeatedly denied Anthony Martial in front of goal and they ended up losing 2-1 as Sevilla went on to lift yet another Europa trophy, this time thanks to their Moroccan custodian.

In Doha, Bounou has been part of a remarkable Moroccan squad that’s taken down Belgium, Canada and now Spain while drawing level against current World Cup finalists Croatia. They’ve done all this while only conceding one goal through more than 400 minutes of football.

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Born in Montreal, Quebec, Bounou’s parents were Moroccans. But at a very young age, he moved back to his home country. Bounou had the option of playing for either Canada or Morocco but chose the Moroccans, having played in the Moroccan league. He got his break when he joined three-time CAF Champions League winners Wydad Casablanca in 2011.

After a couple of years for the Moroccan giants, Bounou was picked up by the Atletico Madrid B team for whom he played for two years and had 47 appearances. This started his ongoing ten-year journey in Spain where he has played for the Atletico Madrid senior team, Real Zaragoza, Girona (visited Kochi in 2018 and was part of the squad that defeated Kerala Blasters 5-0). His best stint in the La Liga though, has been his most recent. Bounou currently has 76 appearances with Sevilla, including a Europa League title where they beat Inter Milan in the final.

Moroccan fans and journalists were seen screaming and crying after their team beat Spain. One journalist was captured crying in the media tribune while another Moroccan journalist thanked Bounou and his manager Walid Regragui.

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With both countries near each other, many Moroccans immigrate to Spain and both countries share history. Bounou was in fact named the first African MVP, an award that was started by the La Liga in the 2021-22 season.

Morocco next faces Portugal. The quarter-final match will see one of the stingiest defences at the tournament take on a team that dropped Cristiano Ronaldo and then scored six goals to boot.

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 12:57 IST
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