From Montreal to Morocco: Unbeatable Bono leads Atlas Lions to new heights

From Montreal to Morocco: Unbeatable Bono leads Atlas Lions to new heights
From Montreal to Morocco: Unbeatable Bono leads Atlas Lions to new heights
From Montreal to Morocco: Unbeatable Bono leads Atlas Lions to new heights
The least expected quarter-finalists of the World Cup are certainly Morocco. After taking care of the defending bronze medallists Belgium in the group stage, they created further shock-waves by defeating the 2010 champions Spain in the round of 16 thanks largely to the performance of their heroic goalkeeper Yassine Bounou (31) also known as 'Bono'.

The Spanish suffered at the hands of a goalkeeper who has been earning his living playing football in their league for 10 years now. Bono, who plays for Sevilla, has been almost unbeatable in Qatar.

An opposition player has not scored a goal against him in the Moroccan net for 752 minutes. What's more, Busquets and co. could not even convert one of the three penalties they took in their decisive shootout against him either.

Not Montreal's first goalkeeper

Montreal, Canada has produced a number of excellent goaltenders. Lorne Chabot, a two-time Stanley Cup winner (with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs) became the first hockey player to appear on the cover of the prestigious Time magazine in 1935. He also appeared in the two longest games in NHL history, both decided in the sixth overtime, and Chabot conceded just a single goal in almost six hours of play across both. 

And then there's Bernie Parent, who led the Philadelphia Flyers to Stanley Cup triumphs in 1974 and 1975. He won the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy in both those years, which are still considered by experts to be the best two consecutive seasons by a goaltender in NHL history. Furthermore, Parent set the record for most regular season wins (47).

For a long time, Parent's record-breaking season was considered an all-time high, until another Montreal native, Martin Brodeur, a mainstay of the New Jersey Devils, surpassed him by one win in 2007. This was helped by the innovation of overtime and shootouts, both of which were not played in the 1970s, and a four-game longer regular season. Brodeur set a long list of NHL records, winning the Stanley Cup three times and helping Canada to two Olympic triumphs.

Bono was born in Montreal as well and is also an extraordinary goalkeeper, and like the others mentioned, he's also finding success elsewhere than in his hometown. Unlike those above, however, he's not in a hockey net, but in a football goal and, playing for Morocco, thousands of kilometres away from where he grew up.

Bono saving a penalty in the shootout against Spain

Past Vaclik and to the stars

When he was eight, Bono's parents moved across the ocean to Casablanca, Morocco. And Yassine swapped training with the Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) for Wydad's youth academy there. It wasn't until he was 20 that he made his senior debut under coach Bada Zaki, coincidentally a former national team goalkeeper.

Zaki, with the captain's armband on, defended Morocco's goal at the 1986 World Cup, where the Atlas Lions sensationally won their group, leaving England, Poland and Portugal behind, only to be stopped in the round of 16 by West Germany with an 88th-minute goal.

Bono lasted only a year in the senior team at Wydad before being spotted by Atletico Madrid representatives at the prestigious youth national team tournament in Toulon. However, he didn't get on the pitch while in competition with first-choice Thibaut Courtois, playing only for the reserves. When they signed Jan Oblak to replace the departing Belgian in the summer of 2014, Bono went on loan to Zaragoza.

From there, he went to Sevilla via Girona, whom he helped achieve promotion to LaLiga. Initially brought in at Sevilla as healthy competition for Tomas Vaclik, Bono soon dislodged the long-time Czech national team number one in goal and Vaclik left for Olympiakos.

Bono won the duel for a place in the starting lineup thanks to his performances in the Europa League. In that competition, where he was originally brought in to relieve Vaclik of midweek duties, he eventually picked up a winner's medal for the club in 2020.

In the quarter-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers that year he saved Mexican Raul Jimenez's penalty. In the semi-final, he kept Manchester United quiet and was named man of the match, and then, in the final, he helped lead Sevilla to victory over Inter Milan.

The following season, he set a club record with 557 minutes without conceding a goal in the league, becoming the first Sevilla player in history to win the Zamora Trophy for the best goalkeeper in LaLiga (ahead of Real Madrid's Courtois). That resulted in serious talk of a transfer to Barcelona which didn't materialise.

Sorry, Arabic only

In his youth, Bono could have chosen whether to represent his parents' homeland Morocco or his country of birth, Canada. The North African country won out in the end and he went to the London Olympics in the summer of 2012 to defend their colours.

"When I hadn't played a game for Morocco, Benito Floro (Canada's coach at the time) contacted me. But I always dreamed of playing for the Atlas Lions," confessed Bono.

He showed his pride in and commitment to his Arab roots at this year's Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, where he refused to answer in any language other than Arabic at the official post-match press conferences despite organisers' orders, arguing that they should have provided translators for English and French-speaking journalists.

Clean sheets in Qatar

Opposition strikers at the World Cup in Qatar have yet to provide an answer to Bono in goal as he has only been beaten by a single own-goal against Canada (2-1). So far in the tournament, he has nullified defending World Cup finalists Croatia and, most recently, Spain.

Against the Belgians, however, he didn't play for reasons that have remained somewhat private. As per usual, he was chosen for the starting line-up, entered the pitch for the pre-match ceremony, and sang the national anthem with the others.

However, the cameras caught him holding his head in his left hand and, just before kick-off, he told the coaches that he didn't feel well, felt dizzy, and so he was replaced by a substitute for the game.

Despite that unexpected absence, Bono quickly returned to the field and has helped Morocco reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup. He became the first African goalkeeper in World Cup history to save two penalties in a shootout. "It was a bit of luck and a bit of intuition," he said humbly of his heroic performance.

Morocco have become only the fourth African side to reach the World Cup quarterfinals after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010).

The Ghanaians came closest to reaching the semi-finals when they lost to Uruguay on penalty kicks. With Bono in goal, it seems the Moroccans don't have to worry about that scenario too much.

Follow all the action from Morocco's quarter-final with Portugal on Flashscore.