The FIFA World Cup stage is often filled with brilliant football athletes and legendary players who cement their place in history. But sometimes, it’s also where players can shine and emerge as star players on football’s biggest stage. No one made a bigger mark than Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Bounou, or “Bono” as his name reads on the back of his shirt, has become one of the most important elements in Morocco’s historic run to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. this year in Qatar. But the 31-year-old was not 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 Wydad Casablanca in 2010 and went on to sign with Atletico Madrid in 2012. During his time, he spent two seasons with the reserves before moving on loan to Real Zaragoza.
With limited time at Atletico, Bounou continued his journey and left the club for Girona in 2016. Bounou joined Sevilla on loan for the season 2019-20 and shone as the Spanish club won their sixth Europa League title.
He then signed a permanent contract with Sevilla and has remained at the club ever since.
But Bounou’s story is far from over, and Morocco doesn’t seem to be looking to back down.
“When you’re part of the story, you don’t understand what’s happening so quickly. Everything is fine, we will stay focused. We are happy with what we have achieved so far. But with time, we will understand,” said Bounou.
The road for this African country is not just a dream. No opposing team has scored against Morocco in this World Cup, which is largely due to Bounou’s defence.
He kept 2018 runners-up Croatia at bay in their tournament opener and made a stunning save in the last 16 in a shootout against Spain to reach their first ever quarter-finals. In the quarter-finals, he ended Cristiano Ronaldo’s five-time Ballon d’Or dream with a stunning upset to beat Portugal 1-0 in stoppage time.
Bounou became the first African goalkeeper to keep three clean sheets in a single World Cup.
“These kinds of times are hard to believe,” said Bounou, “but we have come to change the attitude, the insecurity. Moroccan players can compete with anyone from around the world.
“I think the most important thing, apart from the semi-finals and that, is that we changed that mentality and the next generation will know that Moroccan players can do it all.”
Now Bounou and Co. are looking to continue history and make their first World Cup final. But first, they must get past world champions Kylian Mbappé and France in the semifinals, which kick off at 2 p.m. ET.