Achraf Hakimi has emerged one the world’s best right-backs, Youssef En-Nesyri is now a Europa League winner and Hakim Ziyech has returned to the fray… but how will Morocco fare after appointing Walid Regragui just THREE months before the Qatar World Cup?
- Morocco qualified for their second consecutive World Cup in March this year
- But the African nation have otherwise experienced a somewhat turbulent 2022
- Walid Regragui replaced Vahid Halilhodzic three months before the World Cup
- Morocco also failed to impress during their limp Africa Cup of Nations campaign
- But a fresh approach could benefit the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech
- Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results
After a barren 20-year spell without a World Cup, Morocco were always going to struggle in Russia four years ago.
Sharing a group with Spain and Portugal meant the African nation were up against it from the outset. Their lack of tournament experience in 2018 showed, as they bowed out rock bottom of Group B with one point.
However, having now qualified for a second successive World Cup — following their 5-2 aggregate win in the playoff final against DR Congo in March — Morocco have taken major strides four years on from Russia, even if they’ve also stepped backwards at times.
Morocco start their World Cup campaign against Croatia at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday
Star player Achraf Hakimi, 24, was a substitute right back for Real Madrid before the 2018 World Cup. Now he boasts a first team spot at Paris Saint-Germain and is considered one of the best attacking right-backs in the world.
Meanwhile, Youssef En-Nesyri, 25, had just two top flight seasons under his belt before Russia and is now a Europa League winner with Sevilla.
And whilst Hakim Ziyech’s move to Chelsea has ultimately failed to bear fruit, the Moroccan talisman still possesses the creativity and playmaking know-how to cause problems for teams at the highest level.
In Qatar, Morocco may not be on course for the heroics of 1986 — when they surprised everyone by qualifying for the knockouts in a group consisting of England, Portugal and Poland — but they certainly have the talent and tools to cause an upset.
The nation’s star Achraf Hakimi has emerged into one of the world’s best right-backs at PSG
Walid Regragui took over as head coach of Morocco just three months before the World Cup
Yet, since qualifying for the tournament in March, the Atlas Lions have endured a turbulent period both on and off the pitch.
The primary concern is that Walid Regragui has only had three months with his side ahead of the World Cup, after Morocco parted ways with Vahid Halilhodzic in August.
The country’s limp showing in the Africa Cup of Nations generated speculation over Halilhodzic’s future, especially after his fall out with star man Ziyech, who had been entirely ostracised from their World Cup plans.
Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech has returned to the team having fallen out with the former coach
Vahid Halilhodzic, who was axed by Morocco in August, ostracized the Moroccan playmaker
The Chelsea midfielder has since been reinstated under Regragui, who became Morocco’s first native coach since Badou Ezaki (2014-2016).
While his time in the Morocco hotseat has been minimal, Regragui has experience managing in Qatar, having led Al Duhail SC to the title in 2020.
Like plenty of nations heading into the tournament, Morocco suffered a major blow as midfielder Amine Harit picked up a tournament-ending knee injury last week.
Angers forward Sofiane Boufal has scored in two of Morocco’s three games since September
With the 25-year-old ruled out, Sofiane Boufal’s free-roaming role just behind En-Nesyri will prove even more vital, especially as he enjoyed a fruitful start to the season at Angers.
The shadow striker netted three goals and provided two assists in his opening six matches for the Ligue 1 side — and followed up his form on international duty, scoring twice in three of Morocco’s friendlies since September.
Heading into the tournament with a fresh approach under Regragui could be just what Morocco needs to surprise a few in Qatar.
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