The FIFA World Cup stage is often filled with the world’s brightest soccer athletes and legendary players who further solidify their spot in history. But at times, it’s also where players make their mark and emerge as star players on soccer’s biggest stage. No one has made a bigger mark than Morocco’s goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou.
Bounou, or “Bono” as his name reads on the back of his jersey, has become one of the most integral pieces of Morocco’s historic run in this year’s 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But the 31-year-old player hasn’t always been the most used player on the pitch. He was an unused squad member at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but this year, he looks unstoppable.
Born in Montreal, Bounou and his family returned to Morocco when he was seven years old. He joined the Wydad Casablanca in 2010 and went on to sign with Atletico Madrid in 2012. While there, he spent two seasons with the reserves before moving on loan to Real Zaragoza.
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With limited opportunities at Atletico, Bounou continued his journey and left the club permanently for Girona in 2016. Bounou joined Sevilla on loan for the 2019-20 season and shined as the Spanish club won its sixth Europa League title.
Thereafter, he signed a long-term deal with Sevilla and has remained with the club ever since.
But Bounou’s story is far from over, and it appears that Morocco has no intention of slowing down.
“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 realize,” said Bounou.
The road for this African nation has been nothing short of a dream. No opposing team has scored against Morocco at this World Cup, which is largely due to the stellar defense of Bounou.
He held off 2018 runners-up Croatia in their tournament opener and made impressive saves in the round of 16 during the penalty shootout against Spain to reach the quarterfinals for the very first time. While in the quarterfinals, he ended five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dreams in an impressive upset and handed Portugal a 1-0 defeat in stoppage time.
Bounou is the first African goalkeeper to keep three clean sheets in a single World Cup.
“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.”
Now Bounou and Co. look to continue history and make its first World Cup Final appearance. But first, they must move past World Cup reigning champions Kylian Mbappé and France in their semifinals clash, which kicks off at 2 p.m. ET.