Yassine Bounou, penalty kick specialist, calm presence central to Morocco’s World Cup run

The hopes of Morocco, the Arab world and Africa rested on Yassine Bounou’s shoulders as the spotlight fell on him during Morocco’s penalty shootout against Spain in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

Bounou – or ‘Bono’ as he likes to be called – almost thrived under that pressure. Calmly take his place in goal, grinning as his opponent moved towards him, and tie for three penalties, which would have been four had he guessed correctly for Pablo Sarabia’s penalty that hit the post, to take his country to their first bring purpose. ever World Cup quarterfinal.

He was credited by his teammates and manager in the aftermath, midfielder Azzedine Ounahi even saying he is “one of the best goalkeepers in the world”, but for the most part Bounou was comfortable being out of the limelight. He let his teammates enjoy the moment, felt no need to push himself forward or praise himself as highly as his teammates. “For the penalties it’s about instinct, a little bit of luck and that’s it, there’s nothing more,” he said after the game.

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Despite his display of humility in the wake of what was his country’s greatest footballing moment, Bounou’s calm, confident presence in goal has been central to Morocco’s remarkable World Cup run, which saw them top a group that includes European heavyweights such as Belgium and Croatia. He had already played an important role, making important saves to keep a clean sheet against Spain. The defense ahead of him, consisting of Achraf Hakimi, Noussair Mazraoui, Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saiss, conceded just one goal in four games against top level opponents.

That goal, perhaps ironically, came as Aguerd’s own goal against Canada. Born in Montreal, Bounou was given the opportunity to represent Canada at one point, but chose Morocco instead after his family returned to their native country as a child. His first big break came with local club Wydad Casablanca where he showed enough promise for Atletico Madrid to get him.

He had agreed to play for the B team in Spain’s second division for two years, before being called up to the senior squad, but never got an appearance. Instead, he spent that time on loan at second division Real Zaragoza and then got a three-year fixed spell at Girona.

Despite a promising youth career, Bounou needed to earn his stripes in Spain’s second division before making a big move to Sevilla, who converted his one-year loan into a permanent move. The hard yards are visible in his humble demeanor and his inflamed passion for Morocco. And while he doesn’t talk much off the pitch, the way he has led his back four to the best defense of the World Cup shows his natural leadership.

Whether he likes the spotlight or not, it is certain that every member of this team has become a Moroccan hero, and none other than Bounou.

Punishment savior

Bounou’s penalty kick record is remarkable, making him something of a penalty kick specialist for Morocco. In a Champions League game against Sevilla in 2021, Bounou saved two penalties in the same game against Salzburg FC. That calendar year he saved 5 of 13 penalties for which he was in goal.

His overall save percentage from the spot stands at 26%, a very handy percentage, saving him 13 of the 50 penalties he conceded before the match against Spain. Perhaps his composure on goal had something to do with believing in his own abilities, which may be why, as Bounou revealed after the game, coach Walid Regragui didn’t let too many penalty kicks practice.

Morocco’s quarter-final opponents, Portugal, will be wary of Bounou’s abilities in goal and penalties in general. If play is tight and ends in a shootout, their less experienced keeper Diogo Costa will hand the advantage to Bounou, who will be tuned to make another attempt at making history for his country.

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