Back Story

The year of the underdogs

From Volodymyr Zelensky to the Moroccan football team, they shone in 2022

ROCKY HAS always been a good fighter. He hits like hell and his nose has never been busted. The trouble is, he never got a break. He lives in a hovel and rarely takes off his fingerless gloves. But lightning strikes, and Apollo Creed, the world heavyweight champion, gives him a shot at the title. “This time”, says the loan shark who employs Rocky as muscle, “Lady Luck may be in your corner.”

“We are the Rocky of this World Cup,” said Walid Regragui, Morocco’s football coach, invoking the latter-day saint of underdogs at the close of what has been the underdog’s year. His team were not the only outsiders to stun the tournament. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina; Japan beat Germany. But the dauntless Moroccans were the underdog kings, seeing off the Belgians, Spanish and Portuguese, three of the favourites, to become the first Arab and African side to reach a semi-final. (In the stands, some Iranian fans, underdogs in a benighted nation, booed their country’s anthem and cried.)

Morocco proved an essential verity of underdogs: they can triumph even when, technically, they lose—as the Spartans did at Thermopylae and the Finns to the Soviets in the “…