Morocco (The Atlas Lions)
Round of 16: 1 (1986)
Group Stage: 4 (1970, 1994, 1998, 2018)
Current FIFA Ranking: 22
Group F Schedule
Game 1 – Wednesday 23rd November 2022
13:00 Qatar Time/10:00 GMT
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Game 2 – Sunday 27th November 2022
16:00 Qatar Time/13:00 GMT
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Game 3 – Thursday 1st December 2022
18:00 Qatar Time/15:00 GMT
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Morocco’s best-ever placement in the World Cup came in 1986 when they progressed to the round of sixteen. Their greatest ever achievement occurred in 1976 when they won the Africa Cup of Nations. They have also won the African Nations Championship twice (2018, 2020), the Arab Cup once (2012), two Gold Medals apiece at the Pan Arab Games (1961, 1976) and Mediterranean games (1983, 2013), and one Gold Medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games (2013). As an added bonus, they have also been named African National Team of the Year three times, in 1985, 1986, and 1997.
Beginnings, Independence and the 1970 World Cup
Like many African nations, Morocco loves its football. The Moroccan national team came into being in 1928 and often played exhibition matches against other countries in North Africa. However, as a protectorate of France, Morocco were naturally constrained in what they could do. They obviously could not enter the first six World Cups as a result. However, in 1956, the French occupation of Morocco ended (it had been in place since 1912), and Morocco became an independent country. Indeed, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation had been founded a year earlier, in 1955. Morocco made their debut in 1957 at the Pan Arab Games. Their first game was lively, drawing 3-3 with Iran. Their first two wins followed, a 5-1 defeat of Libya and a 3-1 defeat of Tunisia. A draw with Syria in the semi-final meant lots had to be drawn to see who would progress to the final, and Morocco, unfortunately, lost out.
Morocco next failed to qualify for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Italy. However, the fledgling nation was doing well and joined FIFA that year. It was clear that Morocco wanted to be a good footballing nation. They next entered their first-ever World Cup qualification for the 1962 tournament. After winning a coin toss following a 3-3 draw on aggregate with Tunisia, they then lost 4-2 to Spain on aggregate in the inter-continental play-off. However, Spain were a formidable team then and would go on to win the 1964 European Nations’ Cup, so Morocco were improving. Indeed, 1961 proved to be a good year for Morocco. They hosted and won the Pan Arab games and recorded victories for the first time against a European team, beating East Germany twice. It was clear that Morocco were in the ascendancy.
Morocco’s first participation in an international tournament now transpired as they qualified for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics under coach Mohamed Massoun. However, things did not go well in Japan They were first decimated 6-0 by Hungary (this remains Morocco’s heaviest-ever defeat) and then lost to Yugoslavia. The two European nations were strong, but the competition still represented disappointment for the Moroccans.
Despite an inability to qualify for the 1970 Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco made history by qualifying for their first-ever World Cup in Mexico in 1970. Coached by Yugoslav Blagoje Vidinic, the squad which travelled to the World Cup was composed wholly of players playing in the Moroccan domestic league. This included youngster Ahmed Faras, who would go on to win 94 caps and score 36 goals. Indeed, Faras is Morocco’s second-highest appearance maker ever and their record goalscorer. At the tournament, Morocco almost shocked the previous finalists West Germany in their opening match, scoring the first goal of the game through Mohammed Jarir. However, the West Germans came back to win 2-1. Three conceded goals in ten minutes then followed in a loss to Peru. They did, however, draw with Bulgaria 1-1 in the final match. This draw represented real progress for the African continent, as it was the first point an African nation had ever gained at the World Cup.
There were further escapades in 1972. Having been eliminated in the group stage in the AFCON, Morocco played in the Summer Olympics in Germany. They somewhat surprisingly made it to the second round. However, heavy defeats to European nations, the USSR, Denmark, and Poland eliminated them. Despite these losses, progress seemed to be being made, but nobody could be sure.
Morocco now entered a period of mixed fortunes. On the one hand, they won the most significant honour in their history. Captained by Faras in 1976, Morocco emerged victorious at the AFCON. They finished top of their group, thanks to victories over Zaire and Nigeria and a draw with Sudan. They then faced a de facto final with Guinea, as the final stage was a round-robin league. Requiring only a draw, that is precisely what the Moroccans got, with an equaliser from Baba. Faras finished with three goals at the tournament, and the triumph prompted jubilant scenes in Morocco. However, this was to prove a false dawn as the team failed to qualify for the following two World Cups. Added to a failure to also make it in 1974, this meant that Morocco would only make their return to the grandest stage in 1986. The period was also mixed for Morocco in terms of the AFCON. Indeed, it included a third place, a group stage finish, and two failures to qualify between 1978 and 1984.
Looking forward to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, though, Morocco hoped they could do well. Morocco were believed to have a Golden Generation, possessing players such as midfielders Abdelmajid Dolmy and Aziz Bouderbala. In the tournament, they surprisingly won a group with three strong European nations – Portugal, England, and Poland. A 3-1 victory over Portugal was particularly celebrated. Morocco then pushed West Germany all the way in the round of 16 but were eliminated thanks to a late Lothar Matthaus strike. Still, it had been an excellent and successful tournament for the Moroccans, finishing top of their group. To this day, it remains their best-ever performance at the World Cup.
The 1994 and 1998 World Cups
The nineties were a bipolar time for Morocco. Three failures to qualify for the AFCON between 1990 and 1996 went alongside successful qualification campaigns for the 1994 and 1998 World Cups (and a failure to make it to Italy in 1990). Unfortunately, in the 1994 tournament in the USA, Morocco were a considerable disappointment, finishing bottom of their group without a point following losses to Belgium, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands. They had failed to make an impression despite having quality players such as midfielder Mustafa El Haddaoui and defender Noureddine Naybet. Indeed, Naybet would go on to become the record appearance holder for the country, with 115 caps. In 1998 in France, they did better. They gained a creditable 2-2 draw with Norway and were fantastic in beating Scotland 3-0 in the final game of the group. They did not qualify for the round of 16, but they finished with four points, and the defeat of the Scots was only their second-ever victory at the World Cup.
Dark Period and Resurgence
Unfortunately, Morocco now entered a dark period, being unable to qualify for the following four World Cups. There was also disappointment in the AFCON, losing the 2004 final to the hosts Tunisia, 2-1. More modest performances in the AFCON have followed this. However, the Moroccans returned to the world stage in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It looked hard when they were drawn into a challenging group with Portugal, Spain, and Iran. Narrow losses against Iran and Portugal followed, and despite leading the Spaniards 2-1 in the final game, they eventually drew 2-2. One point was a poor return on the surface, but in being grouped with Spain and Portugal and not being outclassed in any of their games, they had performed admirably
However, a shocking loss to Benin in the round of 16 of the 2019 AFCON followed. After this, Egypt eliminated them in the quarter-final of the 2021 edition. Still, this new Moroccan generation is full of technically gifted and talented players. Their emergence has given the country renewed hope and the belief that something good can happen in Qatar. Drawn into a group with European contenders Belgium and Croatia and high-flying Canada, their task is difficult. They will have designs on doing well and making it to the round of 16, though. If they can, Germany or Spain may be waiting for them.
Road to Qualification
CAF Second Round: Group I: 1st Place
Record: Played:6 W:6 D:0 L:0 F:20 A:1 GD:+19 Points:18
CAF Third Round: Play-off vs DR Congo. First Leg 1-1, Second Leg 4-1. Won 5-2 on aggregate
Date of Qualification: 29th March 2022
Morocco cruised through their group, attaining maximum points in a section comprising Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sudan. They kept five clean sheets and only conceded one goal away to Guinea. The highlight of the group was a 5-0 win at home to Guinea-Bissau. Morocco then moved on to the play-off match for qualification against DR Congo. The away first leg was tight, with Tarik Tissoudali scoring a late equaliser to cancel out an early Yoane Wissa effort. However, the home return was much more comfortable, with Morocco building up a 4-0 lead before the 70th minute. DR Congo scored a consolation, but Morocco secured qualification. They will look to build on their impressive campaign in Qatar.
Meet the Coach: Walid Regragui (age 47)
Regragui had a decent playing career as a right-back, playing most of it in France, particularly spending time in his prime at Toulouse and Ajaccio, then having a brief spell at Racing Santander in Spain. More notably, he accumulated 45 caps for the Moroccan national team, a career highlight being finishing runners-up in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations.
After retirement from playing, Regragui became Morocco assistant manager for a brief period. He then spent six years at the domestic club Faith Union Sport but left the club in 2020 by mutual consent. Following a short spell managing in Qatar, he took over as coach at Wydad AC in his homeland. There, he won the club its third CAF Champions League trophy, becoming only the second Moroccan manager to win the honour. This attracted the interest of the national team, and he was appointed coach in August to replace the controversial Vahid Halilhodzic. Somewhat of a young and rookie coach at this level, newcomer Regrugai will look to infuse the team with confidence leading into Qatar and squeeze as much as he can from his technically gifted side in the tournament itself.
Possible Starting XI and Style of Play
The talented Yassine Bounou is the undisputed first choice for Morocco, having started all eight matches in qualification. His understudy is likely to be veteran Munir Mohamedi. Morocco play with a flat back four, where former Wolves man and captain Romain Saiss will lead at the heart of the defence. West Ham defender Nayef Aguerd is the most likely candidate to join him, having played in all the qualifiers. However, he injured his ankle in pre-season. He might, though, be fit in time for Morocco’s first game. Youngster Achraf Dari is potentially Aguerd’s replacement if he doesn’t make it. Morocco are very strong in the fullback positions, with the world-class Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui flying forward to support the attack.
Defensive midfielder Sofyan Amrabat is a constant and will look to control games using his passing and stop the opposition with his work rate and tenacity. He may well be joined by Azzedine Ounahi and Ilias Chair. If Morocco want to play a bit more conservatively, they could field five in midfield, moving from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. Creative midfielder Younes Belhanda is not in the squad. In the attack, Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal are likely to flank Youssef En-Nesyri. The two wingers will look to create chaos in the final third with their pace, dribbling, passing and shooting, and they can also cross the ball for the tall En-Nesyri. The enigmatic Abdo Hamdallah is also in contention for a starting role.
Morocco have many talented and technical players, and as stated, will rely on the fullbacks providing width. With a solid base of Aguerd, Saiss and Amrabat protecting, it will be up to Chair and the front three to create the goals Regragui hopes will fire them to the round of sixteen.
Goalkeepers: Bono, Munir El Kajoui, Ahmed Tagnaouti
Defenders: Nayef Aguerd, Yahia Attiyat Allah, Badr Benoun, Achraf Dari, Jawad El Yamiq, Achraf Hakimi, Noussair Mazraoui, Romain Saiss
Midfielders: Sofyan Amrabat, Selim Amallah, Bilal El Khannous, Yahya Jabrane, Azzedine Ounahi, Abdelhamid Sabiri
Forwards: Zakaria Aboukhlal, Sofiane Boufal, Ilias Chair, Walid Cheddira, Youssef En-Nesyri, Abde Ezzalzouli, Abderrazak Hamdallah, Amine Harit, Hakim Ziyech.
Date and Place of Birth: (19.03.1993, Dronten, Netherlands)
Current Club: Chelsea
Born in the Netherlands, Ziyech opted to represent Morocco and has scored 17 goals for the national team since his senior debut in 2015. At club level, he is well known for his exploits at Ajax, winning many personal accolades during his time at the Dutch club. These exploits attracted interest from Chelsea, but he has generally been a bit-part player there, and his career has stalled somewhat. Ziyech plays as more of a wide playmaker than a winger. Though he can come inside and shoot on his favoured left foot in the style of former Dutch star Arjen Robben, he is also comfortable operating in central areas. In this role, he can play deft, cute little through balls both on the ground and over the top to allow strikers through on goal or to supply Hakimi on the overlap. Indeed, the right side looks vital for Morocco and their best avenue of attack with the two in tandem. Ziyech will seek to rejuvenate his career in Qatar.
Date and Place of Birth: (04.11.1998, Madrid, Spain)
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Hakimi was born in Spain to Moroccan parents and made his debut for the national team in 2016 at just 17 years old. A UEFA Champions League winner with Real Madrid and league title winner with Inter Milan in Italy and now at PSG, Hakimi is already racking up the honours in his relatively young career. Indeed, on an individual level, he made the CAF Team of the Year in 2019 and the Serie A Team of the Year in 2021. An explosive, fast and exciting right-back, who can get forward to cross, link up and even score himself, some consider him the best right-back in the world. His energy and technical ability from fullback will be fundamental to Morocco’s creativity this winter.
Date and Place of Birth: (01.06.1997, Fez)
Current Club: Sevilla
En-Nesyri made his debut for the national team aged 18 in 2016 and has scored 14 goals for the team since. His best season for Sevilla came in 2020-2021, when he played all 38 matches in La Liga, scoring 18 goals. He also scored six goals in 8 UEFA Champions League matches, but his goalscoring has stalled in recent seasons. As well as being capable of playing as a target man and scoring with his head, El-Nesyri is very comfortable on the ball too. Indeed, he has registered plenty of goals with his favoured left foot and even some with his weaker right. His link-up play is underestimated, as he is a good passer and quite intelligent. He will be expected to score goals in Qatar, supplied by Belhanda, Hakimi, Boufal and Ziyech.