Morocco are the only African team that can say they qualified comfortably for this World Cup. The Atlas Lions made light work of DR Congo, scoring an away goal in Kinshasa to escape with a draw before thumping them in the return leg.
The convincing nature of their qualification still wasn’t enough to repair Vahid Halilhodzic’s unrepairable bond with the faithfuls. Rumours of his sacking never seemed to go away during his tenure, and the federation finally pulled the plug in September.
Walid Regragui, a finalist with Morocco in at AFCON 2004, was waiting in the wings and whisked in. Understandably, he has been keen to stress there is a lot of work done.
He has been quick to bring the nation together as one, which has proved to be healing in contrast to Hailhodzic’s confrontational style. Hakim Ziyech agreed to return to the national team, adding the stardust they have missed in the final third in his absence.
Another notable returnee from exile is striker Abderrazak Hamdallah. Like four years ago, the problem position needs reliable quality – and Regragui, after trialing different options, has decided to include the divisive Hamdallah. The team has played with a renewed energy in the handful of friendlies Regragui has had in charge.
Everyone is behind him and wishing them well, which wasn’t always the case under the tenure of the predecessor. The onus is now on the team to make the fans proud.
Hakim Ziyech – After vowing never to play for Morocco as long as Vahid Halilhodzic is in charge, Ziyech has returned with the change in coach. He adds quality in attack that was desperately lacking at AFCON this year, when he was still in exile. Naturally, he is playing with a point to prove.
Walid Regragui – Fresh from winning the Champions League and Moroccan Botola League double with Wydad Casablanca, the former Morocco international comes into the job with high public approval. He has had a handful of matches to prepare, and so he will have to work overtime to deliver the performance that can satisfy a demanding public
Realistically we are going to have to say Morocco’s journey will end in the Group Stage. We will also cover ourselves by saying the Round of 16 is achievable – with either Germany or Spain waiting, it is hard to fancy the Atlas Lions to go beyond that.