Can perennial underachievers Morocco finally soar at World Cup?

The brilliant consistency of star fullback Achraf Hakimi may be crucial to Morocco’s chances at the World Cup this time.

Morocco team arrives in Doha
Members of Morocco's team arrive in Doha's Hamad International Airport, Doha [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 5
Titles: 0
Best finish: Round of 16 (1986)
World Cup record: W2 L9 D5
Goals: 14
Biggest win: 3-0 vs Scotland (1998)
Player to watch: Achraf Hakimi
Ranking: 22
Fixtures: Croatia (November 23), Belgium (November 27) and Canada (December 1)

Sitting pretty at 22nd place in FIFA rankings, the North African country’s 26-man squad will be looking to make its sixth World Cup appearance a memorable one and ditch the tag of perennial underachievers.

Despite loads of unquestionable talent the Atlas Lions have always had, they have only made it past the round-of-16 appearance in one of their five appearances.

That was in 1986 – and no current member of the team was born then.

However, this squad looks to be even more packed to the tilt with talent, most of whom play in top European leagues. And they are looking to change that poor record.

In August, when former Moroccan international Walid Regragui took over as manager of the Atlas Lions, he recalled star player Hakim Ziyech who was frozen out of the team by predecessor Vahid Halilhodžić, into the fold.

That decision may prove to be a masterstroke if Ziyech, who also barely featured for his team Chelsea, in the English top-flight, can reproduce the magic that made him a fan favourite at his former club Ajax Amsterdam and gave him iconic status at the country level.

But it is superstar right-back Achraf Hakimi, who many may be looking to, to power Morocco, the second-highest ranked African team in world football, to a decent showing this time.

His brilliant consistency for the national team and his clubs – Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, and Paris Saint Germain – over the last three seasons have been well noted, even as some of his compatriots have floundered this year.

Hakimi’s trademark bombings down the flanks and pinpoint crosses will be key for the sleek 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 form of losing just once in their last eight games, they could stand a chance of causing an upset in Qatar.

On Thursday, the team gave a taste of what is to come with a 3-0 thrashing of Georgia, with one goal apiece for the front trio. Of note was the second, an impressive goal from the Moroccan half of the pitch by Ziyech.

Their compatriots – all 37 million of them – will be hoping for similarly inspired performances from November 23 when the team faces Croatia, and afterwards.

Source: Al Jazeera