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2022 FIFA World Cup Preview: Morocco

The long wait is just about over for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with five African national teams preparing to represent the continent in Qatar. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each African national team before the group stage takes place to provide a detailed guide for viewers and supporters of African football to refer to throughout the competition. Up next is a team that is more than capable of advancing the farthest in the competition out of the African participants, the Atlas Lions of Morocco:

Morocco

Profile

Nickname: Atlas Lions

FIFA Ranking: 22

Previous appearances: 5 (1970, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2018)

Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)

Schedule

Group F

November 23: Morocco vs. Croatia

November 27: Morocco vs. Belgium

December 1: Morocco vs. Canada

Projected Formation

Manager

Walid Regragui

The French-born coach was a right back in his playing days who was in the Team of the Tournament at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations after helping Morocco reach the final. Started his coaching career as an assistant with Morocco before finding success in the country’s domestic league with FUS Rabat and then Wydad AC, where he won both the 2021-22 season as well as the 2021-22 CAF Champions League. Popular demand and personal ambitions led to his appointment with the Atlas Lions after predecessor Vahid Halilhodžić failed to repair his relationships with star players Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui.

Morocco has plenty of momentum on its side and high morale despite only two matches with Regragui at the helm with Ziyech and Mazraoui back in the side. Regragui will use a 4-3-3 formation with Ziyech on the right wing and Sofiane Boufal on the left so that both players can cut inside to make an impact with their stronger feet. None of Regragui’s strikers made an impression in the two September friendly matches but Youssef En-Nesyri appears to be the favorite to lead the line. However, Regragui has a few options who can step in to get an opportunity if En-Nesyri is not producing.

Sofyan Amrabat is a tenacious defensive presence in the midfield and he will be flanked by creative forces Selim Amallah and Azzedine Ounahi. The defense is Morocco’s strength with one of the best right backs in the world, Achraf Hakimi, and Mazraoui holding down the fullback positions. Both are capable of playing left back so it will be interesting to see who Regragui elects to play on the left. Nayef Aguerd should be back to start at center back with captain Romain Saïss, both being good distributors of the ball out of the back. Possession should be emphasized under Regragui but he is willing to instruct his side to play more direct if the situation calls for it.

Goalkeepers

1. Yassine Bounou (Sevilla- Spain)
Appearances: 45

A world class goalkeeper who is considered one of the best in Spain’s La Liga, winning the league’s Zamora Trophy during the 2021-22 season for lowest goals allowed per match. Always remains calm with excellent positioning that prevents him from making spectacular saves unless it is necessary, something he is more than capable of. If opponents can find their way past a very good Moroccan defense then they still have to find a way past the superb Canadian-born keeper.

12. Munir Mohamedi (Al Wehda- Saudi Arabia)
Appearances: 43

With experience in the top divisions of Spain and Turkey, Munir is a reliable backup for Bounou who was even preferred as the starter by former Morocco manager Hervé Renard at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Now playing his club football in Saudi Arabia, he has been overtaken by Bounou but is more than capable of stepping in if needed.

22. Ahmed Reda Tagnouti (Wydad AC- Morocco)
Appearances: 3

An African club champion after winning the 2022-23 CAF Champions League with Moroccan champions Wydad AC, Tagnouti has often been overlooked for the role of the Atlas Lions third keeper in favor of Anas Zniti from Wydad’s rivals Raja CA. However with Zniti’s injury just before the competition the 26-year-old is back in the senior national team where he has played three halves in friendly matches.

Defenders

5. Nayef Aguerd (West Ham United- England)
Appearances: 21
Goals: 1

The graduate of the Mohammed VI Academy is a true product of Moroccan domestic football. Won the country’s Botola Pro league title with FUS Rabat before moving to French football, thriving at Stade Rennais and earning a £30 million transfer to West Ham United. Injury delayed his debut for the Hammers but he is recovering at the right time to be fit for Morocco’s campaign in Qatar. Excellent distribution skills from the back with his left foot to along with decent pace and an impressive physical profile for aerial battles.

2. Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain- France)
Appearances: 53
Goals: 8

Hakimi is a remarkably talented right back who possesses the skills of an attacking winger. Slick on the ball and excellent at striking crosses and shots from distance as well as set pieces. Born in Spain, the 24-year-old failed to make the breakthrough at Real Madrid early in his career but made major strides at Borussia Dortmund and was stellar during a Serie A winning campaign for Inter Milan before moving to current club and perennial French champions PSG. The 2022 World Cup is Hakimi’s opportunity to show why he could possibly be the best right back in the world.

6. Romain Saïss (Beşiktaş- Turkey)
Appearances: 65
Goals: 1

Tough as nails and an excellent leader, the veteran captain suffered a downturn in form during the 2021-22 English Premier League season that led to his departure from Wolverhampton Wanderers but saves his best play for national team duty. Very good on aerial duels and does excellently to prevent dribblers from getting past him in 1-on-1 duels. His declining pace and form could be a weak spot for Morocco but there have been no troubling signs yet when he suits up for the Atlas Lions.

3. Noussair Mazraoui- Bayern Munich (Germany)
Appearances: 14
Goals: 2

A well regarded talent who declined to represent Morocco after a disagreement with former manager Halilhodžić, Mazraoui’s return is a welcome sight for Moroccan supporters and adds even more prestige to a talented defense. The Dutch-born defender is similar to Hakimi in that he is excellent when moving forward with good technical abilities. It will be interesting to see if opponents can force Morocco’s fullbacks into doing more defending, something that Mazraoui in particular can struggle with.

20. Achraf Dari (Brest- France)
Appearances: 4
Goals: 0

Well regarded as a prospect since making his professional club debut with former club Wydad AC at the age of 19 in 2018, Dari made a highly anticipated transfer in July to European football with Ligue 1 club Brest after starring in Wydad’s CAF Champions League conquest. Very intelligent defender who is a high quality backup for either of Morocco’s starting center backs if he is needed after gaining valuable experience in one of Europe’s top leagues.

23. Badr Benoun (Qatar SC- Qatar)
Appearances: 3
Goals: 0

The tall former Raja CA star was missed by former club Al Ahly, missing over five months of action due to COVID-19 complications as the Egyptian giants slumped to a second place finish during the 2021-22 season. Benoun is back in action following a transfer to Qatari football and a welcome presence in the Moroccan squad. The 29-year-old is remarkably calm and makes excellent decisions when playing the ball with his feet. Captained the Morocco domestic-based national team to victory at the 2018 African Nations Championship.

26. Yahia Attiyat Allah (Wydad AC- Morocco)
Appearances: 1
Goals: 0

Another Wydad AC player who was a key part of the Reds’ fantastic 2021-22 season, Attiyat Allah joins third goalkeeper Tagnouti and midfielder Yahya Jabrane as the domestic-based players Regragui trusts to compete on the world’s biggest footballing stage. As the only natural left back in the squad, the 27-year-old could very well be given an opportunity in Qatar despite only making one previous appearance with the Atlas Lions senior team but should start as a backup. Precise crosser of the ball with an excellent left foot who is trusted with set piece duties at Wydad.

18. Jawad El Yamiq (Real Valladolid- Spain)
Appearances: 11
Goals: 2

The 30-year-old is a veteran center back who adds to Morocco’s talented group of defenders. Not as technically skilled as his competition for playing time but has impressive speed and physical attributes. Capable of filling in at right back in an emergency situation but likely will not be used in Qatar.

Midfielders

4. Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina- Italy)
Appearances: 38
Goals: 0

Amrabat may be the most important member of the Moroccan squad. A tenacious defensive midfielder who is having a stellar season with Fiorentina in Italy’s Serie A, nobody in the Moroccan squad comes close to the 26-year-old’s tackling and ball recovery skills. Will stay deep in the midfield to help the center backs where his impressive stamina and intelligent passing will help Morocco win the possession battle, allowing Amrabat’s fellow midfielders to focus on getting forward to initiate attacking movements.

8. Azzedine Ounahi (Angers- France)
Appearances: 9
Goals: 2

Ounahi is a rising talent in the Morocco team who is a perfect player for Regragui’s preferred method of focusing on keeping possession. The 22-year-old graduate of the Mohammed VI Football Academy played for Morocco at the 2018 Mediterranean Games and was a star with French third tier side Avranches before making his move to current club Angers in Ligue 1. Adjusted immediately to France’s top division and appears likely to start in Qatar following Morocco star midfielder Amine Harit’s unfortunate injury just before the World Cup.

15. Selim Amallah (Standard Liège- Belgium)
Appearances: 23
Goals: 4

Amallah has been one of the few bright spots for a Standard Liège squad that has struggled to meet expectations in recent seasons. An attacking midfielder with an excellent shot from distance, a 2022-23 club season and strong competition in the Moroccan team may prevent the 25-year-old from starting in Qatar but he will certainly play a part in Regragui’s plans at some point either as a starter or an important substitute.

13. Ilias Chair (Queens Park Rangers- England)
Appearances: 11
Goals: 1

The Queens Park Rangers playmaker started four of Morocco’s six matches during the group stage of qualifying under previous manager Vahid Halilhodžić but his role has declined in 2022 despite maintaining strong form in England’s second division. Chair is unlikely to start for Regragui but the diminutive creative force adds quality depth to the Atlas Lions squad and can play in any attacking position.

25. Yahya Jabrane (Wydad AC- Morocco)
Appearances: 4
Goals: 0