Star full-back Achraf Hakimi’s brilliant consistency could be crucial to Morocco’s World Cup chances this time around.
Previous World Cup appearances: 5
Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)
World Cup record: W2 L9 D5
Biggest Win: 3–0 against Scotland (1998)
Player to watch: Achraf Hakimi
fixtures: Croatia (November 23), Belgium (November 27) and Canada (December 1)
The North African country’s 26-man squad, which sits nicely at 22nd in the FIFA rankings, will look to make its sixth World Cup appearance memorable and leave the tag of perennial underachievers behind.
Despite a lot of undeniable talent that the Atlas Lions have always had, they have only made it past the round of 16 in one of their five appearances.
That was in 1986 – and no current member of the team was born then.
However, this squad seems to be even more brimming with talent, most of whom play in top European leagues. And they’re trying to change that bad record.
In August, when former Morocco international Walid Regragui took over as manager of the Atlas Lions, he called back star player Hakim Ziyech, who had been dropped from the team by predecessor Vahid Halilhodžić.
That decision could prove to be a masterstroke if Ziyech, who also barely featured for his side Chelsea, in the English top flight, can reproduce the magic that made him a fan favorite at his old club Ajax Amsterdam and him iconic status on a country level.
But it is superstar right-back Achraf Hakimi, who many may be looking for, to propel Morocco, the second highest ranked African team in world football, to a decent performance this time around.
To be brilliant consistency for the national team and his clubs – Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and Paris Saint Germain – have been well recorded over the past three seasons, even if some of his compatriots have floundered this year.
Hakimi’s signature bombing down the flanks and accurate crosses will be key to the streamlined attack of Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal and Youssef En-Nesyri as they navigate one of the toughest groups in the competition.
If they all click and replicate their losing ways just once in their last eight games, they could stand a chance to cause a stir in Qatar.
On Thursday, the team previewed things to come with a 3-0 thrashing of Georgia, with one goal apiece for the front trio. The second was striking, an impressive goal from the Moroccan half of Ziyech’s field.
Their compatriots – all 37 million – are hoping for similarly inspired performances from November 23 when the team plays against Croatia, and beyond.