When announcing his international retirement, Atlas Lions coach Walid Regragui probably did not expect to relive the electrifying atmosphere of a FIFA World Cup™ one day.
The former full-back and his teammates remained on a third consecutive failure in preliminary competition, a poor performance condemning them to follow South Africa 2010 on television.
Last March, the Morocco snatches its ticket for Qatar 2022 after having taken the best on the DR Congo. Regragui is then totally focused on his obligations with Wydad Casablanca, which he will lead a few weeks later to victory in the final of the CAF Champions League.
His triumph over Egypt’s Al Ahly made him the media favorite to succeed Vahid Halilhodžić as head of the national team when the latter leaves his post. Remember that Morocco is preparing to participate for the sixth time in its history in the final phase of the World Cup, which will kick off on November 20 in Qatar.
The draw placed the Atlas lions in Group F, along with Croatia, vice-world champions, Belgium, third in Russia, and Canada, who finished top of the preliminary competition of Concacaf after having beaten in particular Mexico and the United States -United.
The task therefore promises to be extremely difficult for Regragui’s men, who will however rely on a few experienced players to take up the challenge: the captain Romain Saïss, the goalkeeper Yassine Bounou or the PSG side Achraf Hakimi.
Job : Goalkeeper
Age : 31 years
Winner of the Zamora trophy, which rewards the best goalkeeper of the season in the Spanish Liga, the Sevilla FC goalkeeper won in front of some renowned specialists in this position such as Thibaut Courtois, Jan Oblak or Marc-André Ter Stegen. Called for the first time in 2013 by Rachid Taoussi, the doorman born in Montreal chose to represent the country of his ancestors, while the Canadian Federation had an eye on him.
Since its first appearance in 2018, it has steadily grown in importance. At 31, he will certainly be called upon to play a leading role against Belgian, Croatian or Canadian stars, despite a difficult start to the season in the league and the Champions League.
If he is about to play his first World Cup as a holder, Bounou already has 43 selections for the Moroccan team, in all competitions. He conceded just 22 goals with the Atlas Lions, keeping a clean sheet 26 times. He has also proven himself in La Liga, averaging 2.5 saves per game, or 76% success.
Job : Central defender
Age : 32 years old
At 32, Saïss remains an essential player within the Moroccan selection, both for his performances and for his driving role in the life of the group.
A former stopper for Wolverhampton, he now plays for Beşiktaş. On the pitch, he stands out for his sense of anticipation and his formidable efficiency in duels. Formidable in the aerial field, he also offers significant coverage to his left side. He has totaled 63 matches with the Atlas Lions since the start of his international career in 2012. However, he had to wait until 2016 to make his first appearance as a starter for the national team, which he has since become. one of the pillars.
Established 60 times, he helped preserve the Moroccan cages on 35 occasions. Such statistics are enough to reassure Moroccan fans when it comes to challenging the reigning vice-world champions, the third in Russia 2018 and the winner of Concacaf qualifications.
If the Turkish championship does not enjoy the same reputation as the English Premier League, where he spent six years, Saïss remains an asset for his team, due to his leadership qualities and his perseverance.
Job : Back right
Age : 23 years
The Paris Saint-Germain full-back has remarkable international experience for a player of his age. Trained at Real Madrid, he passed the milestone of 50 selections last June, in South Africa. He celebrated his 51st cap with the Atlas Lions in stride, against Liberia.
Hervé Renard was the first to trust him, when he was only 17 years old, 11 months and seven days old. These early debuts earned him the second youngest player in the history of the Moroccan team after Hachim Mastour, who however never wore the jersey of the selection thereafter.
Endowed with exceptional talent, the most expensive defender in the history of the French Ligue 1 does not lack character either. In lack of playing time at Real, he did not hesitate to leave Spain to join Borussia Dortmund, in the form of a loan.
In a three-man defense, Achraf represents a significant offensive asset. He proves it this season, after a frustrating first exercise under the orders of Mauricio Pochettino, whose tactical plan did not really suit him. The stats speak for themselves, whether in finishing or creating clear chances for his teammates in the penalty area (1 per game last season versus 1.7 this season). Morocco expects a lot from him in this World Cup.
Today, Hakimi is a key element of the national team. In addition to his 46 starts, he has five matches as a substitute. His duels against Eden Hazard, Luka Modrić and Alfonso Davies should sparkle.
Job : Midfielder
Age : 25 years
International since March 2017, the Fiorentina player has seen his rise slowed by a series of injuries that have kept him away from the field for months.
Since the end of 2019, however, he has been chaining minutes in the jersey of the national team, to the point of now being considered an essential cog in the middle of the field.
Amrabat sometimes struggles to impose himself in duels. Associated with the rise of Lucas Torreira, this shortcoming undoubtedly explains his status as a substitute at the end of last season. Nevertheless, his ability to slow down opposing attacks, cut pass lines and close spaces makes him a real added value in the Moroccan system. He also brings a touch of diversity thanks to his deep passes and long-distance shots.
With 36 caps to his credit, the former Hellas Verona midfielder plays a very important role in Regragui’s group. The latter will certainly rely on him to overcome the trials that await the Atlas Lions in Group F.
Job : Left winger
Age : 28 years old
Since his big international debut under the leadership of Hervé Renard, in 2016 at the age of 22, Boufal has played a key role within the national team.
If he was not on the trip to Russia in 2018, the Angers winger has recently become an essential element in the Moroccan attack line. His three goals in the 2022 CAF Africa Cup of Nations are testament to that, despite being eliminated in the quarter-finals by Egypt.
Boufal perfectly embodies the modern winger: dribbler and scorer, he can just as well play the role of centre-forward. At the same time, he does not hesitate to put himself at the service of others, through his generosity in effort and reassignment.
Injured at the end of last season, he started the current exercise with a bang and offered some valuable points to his team, especially against Montpellier. Future opponents of the Atlas Lions in Qatar have been warned: Boufal is in great shape. (FIFA.com)