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the new Atlas Lions ready to roar in Qatar

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1970, 1986, 1998, 2014, 2018 and now 2022: The Moroccan national team plays in less than 24 hours for the sixth World Cup in its history. It was also the first African and Arab nation to make it out of the pools to the final stages of its second World Cup in Mexico, before succumbing at the last minute to the Federal Republic of Germany of Lothar Matthäus, unlucky finalist against Argentina of the eternal Diego Armando Maradona. Since then, the Atlas Lions have never managed to get out of the group stage, the latest disappointment in Russia against two European leaders, Spain and Portugal, and its executioner of its entry into the competition, Iran. For its stay in Qatar, the selection of the Cherifian Kingdom will also challenge high-level teams: it will first face Croatia from Luka Modric, then Belgium against Kevin de Bruyne, before finishing its path in pool F by Canada of Alphonso Davies. A journey as complicated as his trip to the other side of the Urals.

The context is also different: the Royal Moroccan Football Federation decided last August to part with Vahid Halilhodzic to make way for Walid Regragui, winner of the Moroccan championship and the African Champions League with Wydad. Morocco therefore finds itself with a new coach a few months before the start of the Qatar World Cup, leaving very little room for the Corbeil-Essonnes native to breathe new life into a team that notably finds Hakim Ziyech, who for any pris refused to develop under the orders of the Bosnian predecessor. The new leader of the Atlas Lions will have had the opportunity to introduce some playing principles during the two friendlies against Chile (2-0 win) and Paraguay (0-0) in September. For this flight of just over 7 hours between Rabat and Doha, the 47-year-old coach, in addition to recalling ghosts (Ziyech, Hamdellah …), also decided to integrate new faces into his workforce, ready to do everything to hope to achieve the best odyssey in their land in this planetary encounter…

Bilal El Khannouss (18 years old, KRC Genk)

He is the fifth youngest player at this World Cup in Qatar: Bilal El Khannouss joined Walid Regragui’s best-of-time list less than two weeks before his selection entered the game. Undisputed holder at the heart of the game at KRC Genk (17 TCC matches, 1 assist), current leader of the Belgian championship, the attacking midfielder aged 18 years (and 196 days) was considered before his selection with A in Morocco, as a of the greatest hopes in Belgian football.

This is evidenced by his selections in the youth categories in Belgium (U15, U16 and U18) before converting to the Lion Cub in Atlas among the U20s and the Olympic selection during the September break. This playmaker, comfortable in small spaces, could therefore bring a pinch of unpredictability to the Atlas Lions, where the offensive play often passes to the side of Ziyech and Hakimi. The native of Strombeek-Bever (the northern suburb of Brussels) can also destabilize the opposition by reading the field, allowing him to play in one touch and find his teammates to break lines or open the play in the corridors.

Abdessamad Ezzalzouli (20 years old, FC Barcelona/Osasuna)

The more commonly called Ez Abde in Spain is slightly better known than the former. If this season he is loaned to Osasuna, the Moroccan, originally from Beni Mellal, had the opportunity to prove himself last year with the FC Barcelona first team, the one who was recruited at the base to reinforce the reserve. With 12 games played with A blaugranas, the former Hercules was able to demonstrate his liveliness and his ability to make a difference, whether on the right or the left.

Author of 2 offers in Pamplona in 8 league matches, the young winger is not a key element of his coach Jagoba Arrasate, but the latter reckons that he will dynamise the opposing flanks with his percussion and his technical ease. It is this substitute role he will be able to fill under the orders of Walid Regragui, who had already made him return in September against Chile and Paraguay. The “national earthquake” (referring to his surname Ezzalzouli, which comes from zilzalearthquake in Arabic), will seize every opportunity on Qatar’s soil to get a little more into the hearts of the Moroccan supporters.

Anass Zaroury (22, Burnley)

Like Bilal El Khannouss, Anass Zaroury is one of the new faces in this squad looking for a stay at the emirate longer than three group meetings. The other point that these two players have in common is their connection to Belgium, as they were both born north of the capital Brussels (Malines for Zaroury) and have known the youth teams of the Red Devils (U17, U18 and Espoirs). But unlike his new team-mate, the Burnley winger broke straight into the first team at the Cherifian Kingdom to make up for Amine Harit’s long injury absence with OM.

Arriving at the Championship relegators in the summer for €4 million, the former Charleroi quickly grew under the wing of Vincent Kompany, former greatness of the black-yellow-red selection and the Premier League. With 8 goals and 2 assists between Belgium and England, he is part of the excellent start to the season for the Clarets, leaders of the Championship and on course to return to the PL next year. He has already made his first appearance in Morocco’s colors in the victory against Georgia (3-0). Anass Zaroury made an impact down the left and quickly showed his qualities to his supporters and hopes to get the crowds of his people up…

Abdelhamid Sabiri (25, Sampdoria)

Finally, he is the “oldest” of them, but also the most experienced, having known Germany, England and today Italy with Sampdoria’s shirt. Without going through a training centre, Abdelhamid Sabiri quickly made a name for himself in football across the Rhine until he played 5 games with the German U23 team at the end of 2018 (1 goal) during his time at Huddersfield, then in the Premier League. Since then, he has established himself in midfield at Sampdoria, becoming an important player in the Genoese team upon his arrival in the winter of 2022 (5 goals and 3 assists in 27 games).

Able to develop as a midfielder with an attacking calling, the 25-year-old midfielder is characterized by his ball strike at the foot to bring danger to the opposition camp. His goal against Chile in a friendly also demonstrates this quality, which Amine Harit had also shown, sadly absent for this World Cup, during the recent international break. If he is not expected to start in midfield alongside Walid Regragui for this competition, the former Germany Under-21 international, like his three other team-mates, will have a card to play to gain game time and hope to eventually register with the Lions by Atlas…

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