Morocco: Five players to watch

The Zamora Trophy holder and a Paris Saint-Germain star will be key to Morocco’s hopes at Qatar 2022.

Morocco will face Croatia, Belgium and Canada in Group F

An exciting Paris Saint Germain star is their main man

The Zamora Trophy holder is also a key player

While the Morocco fans are well aware of the challenge that lies ahead at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, where they will face Croatia, Belgium and Canada in Group F, they will be hoping that the talent and experience of their standout performers is enough to guide them through the group stage.

When he brought the curtain down on his international playing career, Walid Regragui almost certainly would not have expected to get the chance to savour the electric atmosphere of a World Cup ever again. Immediately prior to his international retirement, he and his team-mates had to settle for a watching South Africa 2010 from afar after failing to make the finals for a third successive edition.

If we fast-forward to this year, Morocco booked their place at Qatar 2022 back in March after seeing off Congo DR 5-2 on aggregate. At that time, Regragui was fully focused on his role in the Wydad Casablanca hot-seat, where he masterminded CAF Champions League glory a few weeks later.

The Casablanca-based outfit’s win over Egypt’s Al Alhy resulted in Regragui being installed as the media’s favourite to replace the outgoing Vahid Halilhodzic. The former international is now finalising his preparations to guide the national team at Qatar 2022, which gets under way on 20 November.

The Atlas Lions will pit their wits against Croatia, beaten finalists in the previous edition in Russia; Belgium, who secured third spot last time round; and a Canada side that finished ahead of regional powerhouses Mexico and the USA to claim top spot in Concacaf qualifying.

FIFA+ spotlights five players who could help Morocco achieve the unexpected and reach the Round of 16.

Yassine Bounou

Position: Goalkeeper

Age: 31

The current holder of the Zamora Trophy, bestowed on the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio in the Spanish top flight, the Sevilla man beat off some stern competition from the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre ter Stegen to land the coveted award. The Montreal-born goalie earned his first cap in 2013, when Rachid Taoussi was at the helm, after opting to represent the country of his ancestry despite the overtures of the decision-makers at the Canadian Soccer Association.

Since his first taste of World Cup action in 2018, he has established himself as a mainstay between the sticks. At 31, and despite having endured a tough start to the season, both domestically and in the UEFA Champions League, Bounou will be expected to lead from the back in the quest to stifle the considerable attacking talents of Morocco’s illustrious first-phase opponents.

Despite this being the first time that Bounou heads into the World Cup as the Atlas Lions’ undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, he has chalked up 43 caps across all competitions. He has conceded just 22 goals for the national team and has registered 26 clean sheets. Meanwhile, he has shown his worth in the Spanish top tier, recording an average of 2.5 saves per game – a 76 per cent save success rate.

Romain Saiss

Position: Centre-back

Age: 32

The ball-playing centre-back remains an instrumental figure for Morocco on account of his assured on-field displays and considerable presence within the dressing room.

Following a six-season stint at Wolves, Saiss recently moved Besiktas. His biggest strengths are his anticipation and efficiency in individual duels. He is a formidable force in the air and provides his left-back with excellent cover.

Saiss has featured 63 times for the national team since earning his first cap back in 2012. However, after a period in the international wilderness, his first start only came in 2016 and he has since gone on to cement his status as a regular in the Morocco backline. He has made the starting line-up 60 times and played his part in 35 shut-outs, a record that should fill the Morocco faithful with optimism.

Although the top tier of Turkish football may lack much of the prestige of the English Premier League, Saiss brings great leadership and a gritty determination to the table, qualities that make him a key asset for the Africans.

Achraf Hakimi

Position: Right-wingback

Age: 23

The Paris Saint-Germain player possesses impressive international pedigree that belies his youth. A product of the Real Madrid academy, the marauding defender brought up his half-century of caps in June in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa , with his 51st run-out coming just days later against Liberia.

Hakimi was handed his big chance on the international stage by Herve Renard at the tender age of 17 years, 11 months and seven days. The Madrid-born starlet is currently the second-youngest player to have represented Morocco, behind Hachim Mastour, who has not featured for the national team since winning his maiden cap back in 2015.

Blessed with immense talent, the most expensive defender in Ligue 1 history has the mentality to match. After finding game time hard to come by at the Santiago Bernabeu, the youngster had no qualms about heading abroad after securing a loan move to Borussia Dortmund.

Achraf represents an excellent attacking outlet and is revelling in this set-up this term at club level after having had a tough time of things last time round under Mauricio Pochettino, whose tactical blueprint did not really suit his game. His statistics, be they related to finishing or providing his team-mates with clear goalscoring opportunities inside the box, speak volumes. The Moroccan fans are right to expect big things from the jet-heeled defender when the action gets under way in Qatar.

Hakimi is currently a key member of the national-team squad. In addition to his 46 starts, he has been named as a substitute on five occasions. As we look ahead to Qatar 2022, his on-field battles with the likes of Eden Hazard and Alphonso Davies promise to make for captivating viewing.

Sofyan Amrabat

Position: Midfielder

Age: 26

An international since March 2017, the Fiorentina pass master’s rise to prominence was halted by a series of injuries that left him sidelined for several months. However, since late 2019, Amrabat has racked up plenty of game time for the national team and is now considered to be a key cog in the team.

The Moroccan sometimes struggles to come out on top in his individual duels, a weakness that, coupled with the emergence of the now-departed Lucas Torreira, goes a long way to explaining why he had to settle for a place on the Fiorentina bench towards the end of last season. That said, his ability to break up opposition attacks, shut off passing lines and close down space make him a valuable player within the national-team ranks. He also brings something different to the side thanks to his ability to play through-balls and his fierce shots from range. The former Verona midfielder, who has amassed 36 caps, is poised to play an instrumental role in Regragui’s system.

Sofiane Boufal

Position: Left-winger

Age: 29

Since being handed his international debut by Herve Renard in 2016 at the age of 22, Boufal has established himself as a mainstay within the national team. Although he failed to make the squad for the Russia 2018, the Angers player has recently cemented his status as a key figure for Morocco, as evidenced by his three-goal haul at the 2022 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, despite the team bowing out at the quarter-final stage at the hands of Egypt.

Boufal is a fine dribbler with an eye for goal, while he is also equally at home operating in a centre-forward role. He is a real team player and is always willing to put in a shift in for his team-mates.

He picked up an injury at the end of last season, but has really hit the ground running this time round, earning his side some precious Ligue 1 points and producing a particularly impressive display in the recent meeting with Montpellier, in which he converted the winner from the spot. The Atlas Lions’ opponents in Qatar would be wise to take note that Boufal is back with a vengeance and firing on all cylinders.

Source: Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF)