Having taken the long route to the top for club and country, keeper Yassine Bounou has helped Morocco make history at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
- Bounou’s penalty saves key in Morocco reaching first World Cup quarter-final
- Shotstopper was an unused sub at Russia 2018
- He has played in three matches so far at Qatar 2022
An unused substitute for the Atlas Lions back at Russia 2018, few could have predicted back then that Yassine Bounou would be performing heroics for Morocco at Qatar 2022.
From Wydad to Atletico: an arduous journey
Born in Montreal after his parents immigrated to Canada, before later returning to Morocco, ‘Bono’ started his pro career with Wydad Casablanca, where he broke into the first team aged 19. In 2012, he signed for Atletico Madrid, spending two seasons turning out for the club’s B team. Having previously played in the national team set-up at youth level, Bounou made his debut with Morocco’s senior side in 2013 in a match against Burkina Faso, with his performance underlining his up-and-coming status to Moroccan fans. Starved of opportunities to break into the first team at Atletico, Bounou left the club permanently in 2016 in favour of Girona, on the back of loan spells at Real Zaragoza during the 2014/15 and 15/16 campaigns.
Morocco: Hero Bono celebrates shoot-out victory over Spain
Morocco goalkeeper Bono was the hero as the Sevilla shot stopper saved two of Spain’s three penalties as the Atlas Lions advanced to the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final.
Russia 2018: Second fiddle to Munir
Settling well with Girona and helping the club win promotion to Spain’s top flight, a promising season in La Liga in 2017/18 saw Bounou make the Moroccan squad at Russia 2018.
Then coached by Herve Renard, the French supremo opted instead to make Munir Mohamedi, Numancia goalkeeper at the time, Morocco’s first-choice between the sticks. Indeed, Bounou did not play a single minute as Morocco were eliminated from the group stage after games against Iran, Portugal and Spain. However, as fate would have it, the gifted shotstopper would work his way into a much better position four years later.
An example of perseverance
Thanks to his outstanding form with Girona, Bounou was given the opportunity to start with Morocco at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2019, and seemed he was going to firmly establish his position as the Atlas Lions’ No1. Changes were also on the horizon at club level, with Bounou moving to Sevilla from Girona, relegated to the second division, initially on loan. Yet his route to a starting role was blocked by the brilliant performances of Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik. An injury to the latter eventually gave Bounou his chance, the talented custodian seizing the opportunity to play a full part in the Andalusian club winning the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League. Having underlined his credentials for a starting spot with Los Nervionenses, he continued to shine for the club and was also Morocco’s No1 at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon. What is more, during the 2020/21 season he won the coveted Ricardo Zamora trophy in La Liga, awarded to the goalkeeper with the lowest ratio of goals per game conceded over the campaign.
Qatar 2022: Fate on Bounou’s side
“I think we have to learn from our experience at Russia 2018,” said Bounou, in an interview with FIFA+ ahead of Qatar 2022. “We have to be fully ready to play these games and qualify [for the knockout stages].” And after years of relentless striving to nail down his position as Morocco’s main man, and following a host of ups and downs at club level, Bounou appears destined to perform heroics for the Atlas Lions at Qatar 2022. Drawn in a difficult Group F along with Croatia, Belgium and Canada, coach Walid Regragui started Bounou in two group matches, with the custodian missing out on one match due to injury. Regragui’s charges topped the section to make the last 16, thus equalling the historic feats of the 1986 generation. Their next challengers were 2010 champions Spain, with a place in the history books at stake for Bounou and his team-mates in case of a win. After the match had ended in a goalless draw after normal and extra time, with Bounou required to save his team more than once, the game went to a penalty shootout.
Morocco: Bono and Hakimi celebrate Spain victory
Morocco heroes Bono and Achraf Hakimi celebrate their side’s dramatic FIFA World Cup™ victory over Spain.
There Bounou took centre-stage, saving spot-kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets after Pablo Sarabia had clanked Spain’s first attempt off the post – with Bounou also having gone the right way for that effort. So, thanks in part to Bounou’s memorable saves, Morocco made the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history. The 31-year-old goalkeeper has proved himself an example of perseverance, having achieved his dream and helped write a new chapter that Moroccan football fans will never forget.