We continue to profile, reverse alphabetical order, the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—today we cover Morocco.
The Atlas Lions (named after an extinct indigenous North African subspecies of lion) are participating in their sixth World Cup, having reached the Round of 16 in 1986, at the time the first African nation to do so, and departing at the Group Stage the rest of the time.
Placed in Group F with Belgium, Canada, and Croatia the Moroccans are skilled enough to provide each of their opponents some grief, but they are not good enough to claim a Round of 16 berth. Belgium and Croatia are the prohibitive favorites to progress from the group and Canada, the best team in CONCACAF right now, is lower ranked but in much better form than the Atlas Lions. Expect the Moroccans to push for an upset but it will likely not happen against the top two teams. Morocco’s home kit is red shirts with green highlights over green shorts and red socks and their away colors are all white with green and red highlights on the shirts.
The Kingdom of Morocco, situated on the westernmost side of Africa and facing Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar, has been inhabited for about 315,000 years. It is a country of 172,300 square miles with a mix of Mediterranean and desert climates, but with such a mix of topography as to have average temperatures ranging from 30F to 104F but the vast majority of the population live in the coastal areas where the average temperatures range from a low in the 40sF in the winter to a high in the summers of about 89F.
The country was established in 788 and became a unitary parliamentary semi-constitutional monarchy after achieving independence in 1956. Its official languages are Arabic, and Berber with English and Spanish spoken widely. The nation’s population is 37.3M and Moroccans are 68% Arabs and 26% Berbers, 99.6% Muslims, they have a GDP of $331.5B, and an HDI score of 0.686 (medium). As a crossroads nation between Europe and Africa, Morocco has a rich cultural heritage that is a mix of its many visitors from the Phoenicians and Arabs to the Romans and Andalusians, and this has influenced their music, art, architecture, and cuisine. For example, Moroccan literature is written in Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, and French.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Yassine Bounou (Sevilla), Munir El Kajoui (Hatayspor), and Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti (Wydad Casablanca); Defenders—Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain), Adam Masina (Watford), Nayef Aguerd (Rennes), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Yahia Attiyat Allah (Wydad Casablanca), Jawad El Yamiq (Real Valladolid), Samy Mmaee (Ferencvaros), Sofian Chakla (Leuven), and Sofiane Alakouch (Metz); Midfielders—Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina), Imran Louza (Watford), Azzedine Ounahi (Angers), Faycal Fajr (Sivasspor), Ilias Chair (Queens Park Rangers), Selim Amallah (Standard Liege) and Yahya Jabrane (Wydad Casablanca); Strikers— Sofiane Boufal (Angers), Munir El Haddadi (Sevilla), Tarik Tissoudali (Gent), Ayoub El Kaabi (Hatayspor), Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla), Ryan Mmaee (Ferencvaros) and Abde Ezzalzouli (Barcelona).
Path to Qatar
Morocco were seeded into the Second Round of CAF World Cup qualifiers as the fifth top team and placed in Group I where they came in first ahead of a very weak field including Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sudan. Morocco was the only nation with a positive goal differential and had 18 points to second-placed Guinea-Bissau with six. In the Third Round, they were drawn against DR Congo with whom they drew 1-1 away and beat 4-1 at home. That win earned them their ticket to Qatar.
Morocco employed a 5-1-2-2 in an awkward bid to have their more talented midfield and defensive wingers take the lead on offense, boasting the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui as defenders who populate the offensive wings. Curiously, they have the likes of Youssef En-Nesyri, Munir, and Hakim Ziyech also available as strikers. So as the tactics of their previous coach recede into memory those of current coach, Walid Regragui (2022) may well include a more adventuresome setup in their two remaining friendlies before Qatar, both to be played in Spain, against Paraguay and Chile.
The Moroccan team is talented and have a number of their squad playing in teams across Europe’s top leagues. Aside from the obvious ones mentioned above, several goal scorers have contributed to the team’s success such as striker Fofiane Boufal and midfielder Azzedine Ounahi and others have been stalwarts recently on the ups at their clubs, such as midfielder Sofyan Amrabat and keeper Yassine Bounou.
Group and Tourney Prospects
Morocco are cognizant of two tough opposing facts—they are talented but have not shown their true mettle in the past couple of years, and they are in a World Cup group that will test them to the limit. So, the issue becomes how good can they be should they produce their A game in Qatar? Given a new Moroccan coach, the return of Ziyech, who had a bad relationship with the prior coach, and the timely resurgence at club level of a number of their key players, Morocco has reason to hope. But what they can accomplish will be the question their three opponents will be mulling as FIFA rankings wise the Moroccans (23) are outclassed by Belgium (2) and Croatia (15). Despite their best efforts, expect their group competitors to be too strong for them—even if they beat Canada—to progress out of their group.
Photo: Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi – Shutterstock ID ID: 1116897581, by Marco Iacobucci Epp