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Why this national team could be the big surprise of Qatar World Cup 2022

“Cameroon will win the World Cup after a final against Morocco,” said Samuel Eto’o, former Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter, now president of the Cameroon Football Federation. If he can be suspected of subjectivity when it comes to the national team he played for and is currently president of, the same cannot be said of the other finalist he predicts in Qatar.

Morocco will be participating in a World Cup for the sixth time in Qatar 2022. One of Africa’s most promising teams, it is set to battle in one of the tournament’s most open and attractive groups, Group F, where it will face Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Morocco reached the last 16 at Mexico 1986 and have not made it to the knockout stages since. It is now trying to break the deadlock with an attacking line-up made up of recognised talent from foreign leagues, including Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech.

Morocco, only two wins in World Cup history

Morocco have never won on their World Cup debut. In fact, it has won just two of its 16 matches at the finals. One in Mexico ’86, against Portugal, which took the North Africans to the last 16, where they lost to Germany. And a second in France ’98, where they managed to beat Scotland and draw with Norway, but failed to progress to the next round. A draw is Morocco’s most repeated positive result, up to five times, including one against Spain at Russia 2018.

Morocco was drawn straight into the second round of African preliminaries and had no trouble finishing top of the group with six wins and 18 points.

In their last play-off match, they were drawn against the Democratic Republic of Congo, whom they beat after a 1-1 first leg draw in Kinshasa and a 4-1 second leg win in Casablanca.

Halihodzic sacked three months before the start of the World Cup

The Moroccan national team arrives with some turbulence. It participated in the 2018 Russia World Cup under Hervé Renard, now coach of Saudi Arabia, but in 2019, Bosnian Vahid Halihodzic took over the coaching bench. Morocco qualified for the World Cup after beating the Democratic Republic of Congo in the final qualifying round, but Halihodzic was sacked a few months later, in August, due to differences in World Cup preparations. Former Toulouse, Ajaccio and Racing Santander player Walid Regragui has since taken over the team.

Morocco has one of the most talented generations in its history, although it failed to back it up with success in the Africa Cup of Nations. In 2021 it was eliminated in the quarter-finals to Egypt, and in the previous edition, it fell to Benin in the round of 16.

However, the strength of their domestic championship allowed them to become champions in 2018 and 2020 in the African Nations Championship, which is contested only by players playing on the continent.

Hakimi, Zyiech, Mazraoui, En-Nesyri, the biggest stars of “The Atlas Lions”

Morocco’s squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has more talent than ever in its history. A team full of young players who are making their mark in Europe and who will try to shine in a group that promises to be one of the most attractive at the finals.

Leading the Moroccan team’s stars is undoubtedly Achraf Hakimi, the former Real Madrid right winger who is now a regular starter at Paris Saint-Germain. But he is not alone. Morocco has a wealth of talent in this position, where Noussair Mazraoui also plays for Bayern Munich. The speed of Barcelona’s Ez Abde, on loan at Osasuna, Soufiane Boufal (Angers) and the goalscoring ability of Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea), along with Bono and En-Nesyri of Sevilla, are enough to keep Regragui’s team under scrutiny.

Three young Moroccans to watch at the World Cup in Qatar

In addition to the aforementioned stars, here are 3 young players from Morocco’s national team to keep an eye on at this World Cup:

1. Azzedine Ounahi, 22 years old

Azzedine Ounahi’s stock has risen recently after the young midfielder sparked euphoria at Casablanca’s Mohammed V stadium on 29 March with a brace against DR Congo that sealed Morocco’s qualification for this year’s World Cup.

The Casablanca-born player, who currently plays for French club Angers, is so skilful that Vahid Halilhodzic couldn’t resist calling him up for the last Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. He’s very hard to take the ball from and is a real threat with his accurate passing in the final metres. Add to that his talent at long-range shooting and it’s clear why so many hopes were pinned on him for Qatar.

2. Imran Louza, 22 years old

Imran Louza has quickly established himself as a key member of the Moroccan team. His versatility and physical strength make him a complete midfielder, capable of both attacking and defensive duties.

The Watford player has the full confidence of his coach and has repaid that confidence with exceptional performances of late. It would be a major surprise if Louza were not a key player for the Atlas Lions at the next World Cup, perhaps even commanding the midfield.

3. Zakaria Aboukhlal, 22 years old

Aboukhlal is one of the young players the last two coaches have called upon almost constantly, including at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January.

The striker bought by Toulouse from AZ Alkmaar is a talented forward, composed in front of goal and skilful in tight spaces. Blessed with impressive stamina, he works tirelessly to lend a hand in defence and continually presses forward when the team does not have possession. No doubt another player eager for the 2022 World Cup to showcase his talents in front of spectators around the world.

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