It will not have been lost on many Spaniards that they were effectively knocked out of the World Cup by a Spaniard. Their penalty shoot-out defeat was sealed by a panenka penalty from Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, who was born and raised in Getafe, a satellite town of Madrid.
Of course, he came through the academy at Real Madrid, where he first made his name before moves to Borussia Dortmund and Inter.
He could well have played for Atletico Madrid too, as his father Hassan Hakimi explained to Cadena SER.
“He did trials for Atletico, they wanted to sign him. They gave him the contract, but we said no because that week we had a meeting with Real Madrid. I preferred that he signed with Real Madrid.”
Achraf could easily have played for Spain too and was in fact in the youth setup for La Roja, but as he entered adulthood, decided to change course and play for Morocco.
“With the under-19 they called him up to play a game in Fuenlabrada. As soon as he left, he said he doesn’t like it. At this time he was already going to Morocco a lot. He leaves and says ‘I’m not coming back’. I don’t know what happened. He said ‘I don’t like it’. In the car he told me he wasn’t coming back, but he didn’t tell me why.”
“I give my son freedom. I thank Spain for everything, I have never said anything bad about Spain. But I prefer that he plays with Morocco.”
As Hassan’s word intimate, there is no ‘morbo’ between Achraf and Spain, merely that he felt more in tune with his Moroccan roots.
“When we go down we see that people know us. They tell us ‘don’t be silly, come to your country to see your roots’. My son was born here, grew up here… He is Spanish and feels Spanish.”
It has served him well. Like Ez Abde, who also elected to play for Morocco ahead of Spain, they have gone further than La Roja have in their history, with the exception of the 2010 edition. With such a large diaspora, there will no doubt be more wild celebrations in Spain if Morocco beat France on Wednesday evening.