Morocco Will Be The First Arab Nation to Play In a World Cup Semi-Final: But Who Are The Faces Behind Their Success?
By: Arab America Contributing Writer / Drew Jackson
Morocco’s men’s team is making an historic run towards what could possibly be the Arab world’s first World Cup champion.
As the first Arab/African team to advance to the World Cup semi-finals, this giant-slaying team has taken down Belgium, Spain, and most recently Portugal on their run to the Cup. Through grueling defensive play, and opportunist mid-field work, the Rabat Club’s style has made them a favorite both in Arab nations and abroad.
But who are the men driving the success?
Chelsea sub and Midfielder Hakim Ziyech (29) has had a fruitful Premier League career with 30 combined starts over the past three seasons.
Nicknamed “The Wizard” from his time playing for Ajax in the Netherlands, Ziyech has put on heroics in the World Cup recording one goal and one assist in the Qatari games.
Born in the Netherlands, Ziyech began his professional career in 2012, before being picked up by the top Club of Ajax in 2016. During his time with the Dutch powerhouse, Ziyech made a name for himself on the international stage by scoring 16 goals in 2018-2019.
Ziyech was picked up by Chelsea soon thereafter and with his recent success on the international stage, he is likely to resign or move to another Premier League team for the 2023 season.
With over 100 career professional goals Morocco looks to him to run the offense as a crucial playmaker.
Dubbed “Morocco’s David Beckham” by The Sun, the Ligue 1 Defender has spent the last two seasons with powerhouse Paris Saint-Germaine. During his time at the French club Hakimi has garnered 46 appearances scoring seven goals in the process.
Born in Madrid, Spain, Hakimi is one of the many Moroccan players playing for the country out of loyalty to their bloodline over their place of birth.
The PSG right-back has served as a focal point for the Moroccan defense that successfully held the possession dominant Spanish squad without a point through 120 minutes in the Round of 16.
Also recording an assist this World Cup, the Rabat club will be relying on Hakimi to play a key role in stopping his PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe come Wednesday afternoon.
Teammates describe the 26-year old center fielder as a “field general” when it comes to anchoring Morocco’s offensive and defensive efforts.
The younger brother of Moroccan team veteran Nordin Amrabat, Sofyan Amrabat is hungry for success.
Playing his club ball out of Fiorentia in Italian Serie A, Amrabat has enjoyed a gritty tenure with the team since 2020 making over 65 appearances for the club.
Amrabat plays a crucial role in both the offensive and defensive schemes. Morocco plays a 4-1-4-1 defensive set with Amrabat as the first one in the sequence. Playing close to the goal he ensures that the team has a secondary or tertiary slide to the ball in the case of a beaten Morocco defender. Amrabat plays a crucial role on this side of the ball, but he plays an even more critical role when it comes to switching the ball upfield during counterattacks and serving as the anchor on offense.
Morocco’s style of play draws opposing teams onto their side of the pitch for a majority of the game. Most teams would be wary of allowing world class strikers ball control this close to the net, however Morocco uses it to their advantage when counterattacking.
The Rabat squad swings the ball to the other side of the field after a steal, with key passes moving through Amrabat. Amrabat’s responsibility then is similar to that of a quarterback in American football. With his decision and vision swinging the ball to the optimal side, he then enjoys a pivot position as a back anchor in their offensive sets.
His role cannot be understated as Regragui’s system of play requires a confident center-mid. His “field general” style of play allows Amrabat to be an incredible facilitator for the team.
Undoubtedly one of Morocco’s most important players is their dominant goalkeeper in Yassine Bounou.
The Sevilla goalkeeper has a La Liga title to his name and is responsible for shutting out Spain in PKs during the round of 16. “Bono” as fans around the globe have come to know him is a brick wall for strikers and has stood tall throughout the tournament, recording five saves and allowing zero goals during regulation.
Bounou is a crucial factor for the Moroccan squad, a team with the second lowest time of possession compared to any other squad in the tournament. If Morocco is going to succeed in taking teams to PKs to decide games throughout the tournament, they need to make sure they have a competent goalkeeper in net, which they have found in Bounou.
The man pulling all the strings and responsible for a great bulk of Morocco’s tournament success is their head coach Walid Regragui.
Regragui is a former player who transitioned into coaching after retiring, getting his first job as an assistant to the Moroccan men’s team in 2012.
A right-back during his playing career Regragui brings a strategically defensive mindset to the game, holding the belief that solid play without the ball is more important than solid play with the ball.
As mentioned before, Morocco has the second least possession percentage of all World Cup teams at just under a third of their playing time actually having been with the ball. Only Costa Rica, who exited in group play, has had the ball for less time than them.
This off-ball play has allowed Morocco to breach opposing defenses who over extend, creating scoring opportunities not seen in other games or generated by other opponents.
In addition to his defensive style of coaching, Regragui has been described as a players’ coach and his appointment led to the reinstatement of several key players such as Ziyech and Hakimi.
Since Regragui took over the team, Morocco has allowed one goal.
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