After four matches at Qatar 2022, Morocco has conceded a single goal and even that was an own goal scored by central defender Nayef Aguerd. With a well-rounded defence and an excellent goalkeeper, the “Atlas Lions” not only qualified for the first time in the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup, but also wrote history, becoming only the fourth African team in history to reach that stage of the competition.
And goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was definitely their talisman, as Spain failed to score any of the three shots they had in the penalty shoot-out that decided the qualified side between the top eight sides in the world. First, Pablo Sarabia hit the post, while Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets had their shots saved by Bounou – or Bono as he is well-known in Spain, where he plies his trade at club level for Sevilla FC.
Bono’s story is quite peculiar, but he always had big ties with Morocco, through his parents. However, this FIFA World Cup edition was surely special, as the goalkeeper faced both the country he was born in, Canada, and the country he has been playing in for the last ten years, Spain, eliminating both from contention and being a true hero for Morocco.
The story starts in Montreal, Canada, where Bono was born in April 1991, to Moroccan parents. However, the family came back to Morocco when the future goalkeeper was at a young age and he started playing at Wydad Casablanca, one of the most decorated teams in Morocco’s history, a former CAF African Champions League winner.
“I am originally from Morocco and I grew up there. I always dreamed of playing for the Atlas Lions. It was quite strange to play against Canada, the country where I was born. The Canadian national team has developed a lot. By chance, they came in our way,” the Moroccan goalkeeper said after Morocco won against Canada, 2-1, in the last game of the group phase at Qatar 2022.
It could have turned very differently, though, for Bono, who was contacted in 2013 by Benito Floro, the former Canada coach, to see if he was available to play for the national team of the country he was born in.
By that time, the goalkeeper did not feature in any official match for Morocco, having only featured for the Under-20 and Under-23 teams of the “Atlas Lions”. But his eyes were surely on representing Morocco on the biggest of stages.
“Yes, I was indeed contacted by Benito Floro when he was coach. I had not yet played an international match with the Atlas Lions back then. I am originally from Morocco and I grew up there. I always dreamed of playing for the Atlas Lions,” he said.
But then, the big break came. In June 2012, he was signed by Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, where he featured sporadically and was usually sent to the second team, in the third league.
Stints at Zaragoza and Girona followed, before Sevilla identified his potential correctly and snatched him up, first on loan, in the 2019-2020 season and then permanently, for only $4 million, becoming their clear starter between the goalposts for the Andalusian side.
And in the past season, his performances were nothing short of excellent, winning the Zamora Trophy, given in Spain’s La Liga for the keeper – who must have played a minimum of 60 minutes in at least 28 matches – with the lowest goals-to-games ratio in Spain’s top flight.
Bounou conceded just 24 goals in 31 appearances to give him a ratio of 0.77 goals per game which saw him finish ahead of of Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.
Now, with his excellent performance, Bono will likely remain enshrined in the history of Moroccan football, his name always tied to this qualification, which was the first in the quarter-finals for the “Atlas Lions”.