Up shut, there are hints of Gianluigi Buffon about Yassine “Bono” Bounou. The Morocco goalkeeper, who wants only one extra of his already legendary performances in Qatar to propel the Atlas Lions into the World Cup remaining, is not fairly Buffon’s twin, however they might simply be brothers. The mop of darkish hair, the chiselled profile, the facial pores and skin tone, similar top and their huge, rangy frames evoke outdoorsmen who might, again within the day, have constructed a cabin, fenced a ranch and wrangled horses or run logs down river in midwinter.
They’re hardy males.
It is also true that the final group to succeed in a World Cup semifinal having conceded simply as soon as in 5 event matches — Bono and Morocco’s present document — had Buffon in aim, in 2006, as Italy (2-0, 1-1, 2-0, 1-0, 3-0 in opposition to Ghana, United States, Czech Republic, Australia and Ukraine) finally received the event that yr.
Considerably spooky is the truth that Italy met Zinedine Zidane’s France in Berlin, 16 years in the past, having conceded solely an personal aim on their strategy to the ultimate (Cristian Zaccardo in opposition to the US). In the meantime, Morocco, already the primary Arabic and first African nation to compete in a World Cup semifinal, have additionally seen Bono overwhelmed by solely an personal aim, when he was overwhelmed by teammate Nayef Aguerd in opposition to Canada.
You’ll be able to select which of the quirky story components make a shock World Cup semifinalist extra attention-grabbing: the truth that his surname is not Bono, however Bounou, or that he speaks English with an Arabic accent, however Spanish with a really distinct Argentine accent; the truth that the soccer membership he is most keen about is Buenos Aires giants River Plate; the truth that previous to this competitors, his biggest fame regarding penalties was shouting the made-up phrase “Kiricocho!” at Erling Haaland to attempt to deter the Norwegian star from scoring; the truth that this Moroccan man was really born not solely in a special nation, however continent (Montreal, Canada); or that his canine sounds as if he is named after a Disney mermaid however really is not.
Nonetheless, if there is a defining attribute about this 31-year-old, who discovered to play soccer on the uphill slope of a Casablanca grocery store parking zone the place he and his buddies pulled large rubbish containers collectively to make goalposts, it could be his intense humility. So down-to-earth and bizarre is he that regardless of already being a Europa League winner by then, when Youssef En-Nesyri — whose towering leap and headed aim put Morocco into Wednesday’s semifinal in opposition to France — joined Sevilla, Bono really frightened that the newly arrived striker would not be his pal.
“Youssef is like my youthful brother,” Bono as soon as informed me. “No matter bothers him bothers me, and likewise with no matter makes him comfortable, too. I look on it as an important honour to be taking part in alongside such a beautiful footballer, for membership and nation, however the day he arrived, I used to be nervous. I did not know whether or not we might get alongside or certainly whether or not he would get on with the remainder of the squad figuring out that he has ‘fairly a persona.'”
Once you interview this likeable, proficient, low-key man, you will do properly to get an anecdote and even see behind his flawless poker face. This is not a criticism, thoughts you: I used to be 10 toes away from him within the Schooling Metropolis stadium when he was informed he’d been named Participant of the Match for his stable efficiency and two penalty saves (from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets) that eradicated Spain.
Watching the occasion was low-key comedy. Gamers from Muslim nations do not pose with the Budweiser backdrop to their MOTM interviews, so it simply seemed like several outdated postmatch interview. And when Bono responded to the primary query with “I am so comfortable for the group …” it was delivered with a totally clean face, devoid of any joyful expression, and with a flat, monotone voice that might have been a homage to Ok-Billy’s Tremendous Sounds of the ’70s from “Reservoir Canine” (or the deadpan comic, Steven Wright, who performed him).
By the point Morocco eradicated Portugal? Boy, had been issues totally different. Participant of the Match once more, Bono was beaming from ear to ear. His voice did not carry euphoria, however the second was drenched within the impression of what he and his nationwide group had achieved.
First, midfielder Yahya Jabrane burst into the so-called “flash” interview, draped in a Morocco flag, and grabbed Bono in order that he might plant a kiss on his cheek. The keeper’s manner was unruffled, however his look appeared to say Ahh, you huge galoot … I am going to permit it this time. Just a few seconds later, when requested to whom he’d reward his award, he not solely nominated his “little brother,” membership teammate and profitable scorer En-Nesyri, however yanked the striker into the interview and handed him the trophy in order that they might then pose collectively, after which Bono stepped out of the highlight.
It was a traditional Bono factor to do; finally, he stepped again in to conclude the interview, however this time along with his two-year-old son, Isaac, in his arms. The child, pondering the microphone was an enormous lollipop, twice tried to lick or chew the factor a lot to his father’s amusement.
That theme of household has been gigantic for Morocco to date. There have been sensational photos of gamers in search of out family members, normally their moms, within the stands and celebrating with unrestrained emotion. Little Isaac Bounou and his dad left the interview space and nipped on to the Al Thumama pitch in order that they might kick a ball about.
Think about when the child appears again on these photos in later life: what he’ll really feel, what he’ll owe his doting dad. Think about what Yassine Bono felt there after which in that shared second of ecstasy. Incalculable.
Gab Marcotti praises Morocco for his or her win vs. Spain however criticises Luis Enrique for his tactical selections within the loss.
Coach Walid Regragui had a very good rationalization for that theme: “Earlier than Qatar, we had a method assembly about whether or not or to not carry households with us. Primarily based on our expertise in 2018, we selected the choice to carry the households. Some gamers have youngsters, whereas some would quite have their mother and father with them. We did a very good job in that regard.
“Once you win, there isn’t any negatives, everyone seems to be comfortable, however, should you lose, folks will say ‘why did you carry the households?’ However the energy of household spirit is one thing we need to carry onto the pitch: till now, it is functioning very properly.”
Glad scenes, certainly. Happier nonetheless, after all, if Regragui’s group win at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday and change into inarguably the best underdog story in 92 years of World Cup historical past.
Bono’s goals-against document has after all been helped by the truth that the lads in entrance of him have allowed solely 11 efforts on course throughout 510 aggressive minutes in Qatar. It implies that the provision — and it is very laborious to think about that each make it — of first-choice central defenders Romain Saiss and Aguerd is likely to be extraordinarily influential by which group progresses to fulfill Argentina or Croatia.
It is exceptional too that this semifinal is the primary aggressive assembly between France and Morocco. That stated, the Atlas Lions will at all times have Casablanca, the place they beat Les Bleus 6-5 on penalties after a 2-2 pleasant within the warm-up weeks earlier than World Cup ’98.
Initially, after all, Bono will merely be praying for an impressed efficiency and a win. However on one other degree he’ll be beseeching the soccer fates that the ultimate could be him and Morocco in opposition to Argentina: a rustic and a soccer tradition he adores.
When he was younger, Bono’s mother and father gave him a Gabriel Batistuta shirt — Bono was a striker lengthy earlier than being transformed to a keeper — and his all-time favorite participant, by far, is Ariel “the Little Donkey” Ortega, after whom the household’s canine is called (not Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”).
When the Boca Juniors vs. River Plate “Superclasico” Copa Libertadores remaining, second leg, was relocated to the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid 4 years in the past, Bono was someway capable of conjure up two tickets. River received on a 5-2 mixture: cue the fiesta.
Extra devoted nonetheless: Bono and a few pals, wearing River Plate shirts, flew to Japan for the World Membership Cup remaining in 2015. Los Millionarios had been humbled 3-0 by Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, which, if you consider it, meant that final week’s elimination of that very same coach’s Spain aspect was some revenge that Bono served chilly.
Papu Gomez, a Sevilla teammate and potential opponent if Messi & Co. meet Morocco in Sunday’s remaining, has been heard to inform folks in Lionel Scaloni’s squad: “Bono? He is extra Argentine than me!” That may account for the “Kiricocho!” anecdote.
Carlos Bilardo was Argentina coach when the Albiceleste received the World Cup in 1986. Throughout Bilardo’s membership profession there was, he alleges, a fan named ‘Kiricocho‘ (or one thing related), whom he hated to see within the stadium as a result of Bilardo passionately believed that the man introduced dangerous luck. Bilardo’s excessive hatred for the very title meant that for a technology of Argentine footballers of a sure age, “Kiricocho!” grew to become a phrase through which you wished dangerous luck on anybody to whom you shouted it.
When Sevilla, with Bono in aim, confronted Borussia Dortmund within the Champions League final yr, the keeper (who has by no means even been to Argentina) yelled ‘Kiricocho!‘ 3 times at Haaland as the large Norwegian ran as much as take a penalty. Bono saved it, to very large acclaim, however the referee dominated it needed to be retaken. Haaland yelled “Kiricocho!” again at Sevilla’s keeper instantly previous to scoring the retake, after which sprinted as much as Bono to mock and provoke the overwhelmed keeper. The 2 males buried the hatchet postmatch, with Haaland admitting he’d had no thought what the phrase meant, or why Bono had it shouted at him, however had merely determined to retaliate.
It was Bono’s most well-known penalty, not less than till Morocco performed Spain at Schooling Metropolis. Then, on the weekend, Portugal got here and went. Now it is France’s flip.
For all of the speak about being born in Canada, his love for Argentina and a profession blossoming in Spain, Bono is a Casablanca boy at coronary heart. Beat France within the semifinal, and any Moroccan streets with no title will carry Bono’s any longer.