The Morocco player profiles were written by Mohamed Amine Elamri (https://twitter.com/Amine_Elamri).
He writes for Le Matin (https://lematin.ma/).
1. Yassine Bounou
Date of birth: April 5, 1991
Place of birth: Montreal, Canada
Nicknamed “Bono”, Yassine has never pretended to be a star. Born in Canada, Bounou moved with his family back to Morocco when he was 8 and his life would never be the same again. From the back of the collective taxi that took him to Wydad training ground, he was always dreaming of making it to the big stage. At the age of 19, he was one of the youngest Moroccan players to feature in a CAF Champions League final. The following year, he joined Atletico Madrid, but failed to convince Diego Simeone of his worth. After good performances in Girona, Yassine joins Sevilla in 2019 and helps them conquer their 6th Europa League title. Bono then becomes the first African MVP of La Liga, the first Sevilla goalkeeper to win the prestigious Zamora Trophy and makes it to Top 10 nominees for the Yachine Trophy.
12. Munir El Mohamedi
Date of birth: May 10, 1989
Place of birth: Melilla, Spain
Club: Al Wehda
For many years, the Atlas Lions suffered from poor performances in goalkeeping. But that has changed since Munir El Mohamedi first joined the Moroccan national team in 2015. With a fantastic run in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers having six clean sheets in six games, Munir was logically the goalie in Russia. But that has changed since, due to the shifting of Yassine Bounou’s career in the last four years. “The competition between us is sane, Munir said. If he’s at 100%, I try to be at 150%. It allowed me to be mature and to be better.” In late 2020, Munir won the Zamora Trophy for being the best goalkeeper in Spain’s 2nd division. 20 months later, Bounou won the Zamora for being the best in La Liga.
22. Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti
Date of birth: April 5, 1996
Place of birth: Fes, Morocco
Club: Wydad AC
“I don’t like the comparison with my father, I want to be better than him”. Such strong words from a young Reda in his early professional career turned out to be nothing short of the truth. Chosen to be part of the 2018 World Cup squad, Tagnaouti stepped into a whole new level. In the last 4 years, the goalkeeper won the Moroccan championship 3 times and a priceless Champions League title in 2022, under present Atlas Lions’ manager Walid Regragui. Needless to say both men know each other very well. But sometimes confidence makes space for vanity and in 2019, he was banned from national team for 3 months for allegedly faking injury in a CHAN qualifier in Algeria. A couple of days later, he missed an important Throne Cup clash and his team got eliminated. The only domestic competition that he is yet to win, but which his father has conquered.
2. Achraf Hakimi
Date of birth: Nov. 4, 1998
Place of birth: Madrid, Spain
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
“My mother used to clean houses and my father was an ambulant vendor. They sacrificed so much to allow me to play football. Now, I fight everyday for them.” Those sentences say a lot about Morocco’s own wonderkid. After being the 5th youngest player of 2018 World Cup, Hakimi has much more experience and goes to Qatar as a confirmed superstar. Italia and France champion with Inter and Paris respectively, Achraf never forgot his oath to give back, not only to his family. In May 2021, he becomes an official Ambassador for UNICEF and has been involved in many charities. His social awareness goes even further. During the “Black Lives Matter” protests in the US, Achraf made his position clear, celebrating a goal by revealing a shirt with the message ‘Justice for George Floyd’ after scoring for his then team Borussia Dortmund.
3. Noussair Mazraoui
Date of birth: Nov. 14, 1997
Place of birth: Leiderdorp, Netherlands
Club: Bayern Munich
Being one of the most talented players doesn’t always mean you get a bye to represent your national team. And when you get in a direct conflict with the manager, chances are even fewer. “When I arrived, the coach was very upset with me. During training, it was very hot and the coach asked us to drink every 5 minutes. During one of the breaks I didn’t drink, because I wasn’t thirsty anymore.” Not willing to abide by the rules isn’t helping either. “[Halilhodzic] came to ask me to drink again, which I politely refused, but he nervously insisted. To calm the situation, [Romain] Saiss gave me a bottle of water, but I poured it on the floor. That’s how the problem started.” Many months later, Coach Vahid and ‘Nouss’ made up, but the versatile wing-back never played under the French-Bosnian coach again.
5. Nayef Aguerd
Date of birth: March 30, 1996
Place of birth: Kenitra, Morocco
Club: West Ham United
Born in a family of footballers, Nayef’s father has even been an international. But his mother wasn’t easy to convince that the young kid could become a professional footballer. She would rather see the young Nayef following his studies. That quickly changed when in 2009 the whole family was invited to the Mohammed VI Football Academy and its then modern facilities. There, it was clear that studies were as important as football. “It’s not easy to make some sacrifices when you’re 12 or 13. (In the Academy) I had to sneak some chocolate bars in, because the diet was really strict. If you get caught, you wake up at 4.30 a.m. or 5 a.m. to do some running.” But those tough rules helped Nayef grow into a professional. His move to West Ham, after spending 4 years in Ligue 1, makes him a role model for the youngsters not only in the Academy, but in the whole country.
6. Romain Saïss
Date of birth: March 26, 1990
Place of birth: Bourg-de-Péage, France
There are two types of captains: the ones that are loud, shouting at referees, opponents, teammates… And there are skippers like Romain Saïss, who lead by example and use very few words to express themselves. After Mehdi Benatia’s departure following a woeful 2019 Afcon, Saïss was logically chosen as the new captain and the handover couldn’t have been smoother. Being handed the armband at a relatively advanced age seems natural for somebody that always waited and worked for an opportunity. “I was playing at semi-professional level and the money wasn’t enough. I got 500 euros but that just about covered my petrol. So I worked in my father’s restaurant to help him. I was only allowed to wash the dishes and give out the menus.” Saiss experienced racism first-hand. In his first game in England, he received racial slurs from an opponent. “If a player is abused, it’s a good idea if the player leaves the pitch. If during a game you can hear someone stupid shouting at you, being racist and saying things like monkey. It is very hard for the player.”
18. Jawad El Yamiq
Date of birth: Feb. 29, 1992
Place of birth: Khouribga, Morocco
One of the best defenders in local football in the last decade, Jawad El Yamiq has won almost everything before setting sails to Europe. Nothing was given though and after a small stint in Italy, Jawad found confidence and relative success in Spain. In 2021, Real Valladolid got relegated from La Liga and rumours insisted in El Yamiq pressuring to move to Bordeaux. The situation was so tense that somebody broke into El Yamiq’s garage, vandalized his car and wrote “Go away” on a side. Almost a year later, Jawad not only stayed in Valladolid, but helped them come back to La Liga and is still one of the main players of the team owned by Brazilian legend Ronaldo.
20. Achraf Dari
Date of birth: May 6, 1999
Place of birth: Casablanca, Morocco
Born and raised in Casablanca, Achraf Dari has always been ahead of his generation. In 2017, at age 18, he helps the U23 Moroccan team win the football tournament of the Francophone Games in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), being one of the youngest players in the team. Later that year, he won his first continental title in his first season with his beloved club Wydad AC. Five years later, Achraf leaves Wydad having won a second Champions League title by being one of the main characters. Dari is also thankful to his mother, who he always calls before an important game, like prior to the final against Al Ahly last May 31st. “She always supports me and prays for me”.
26. Yahya Attiat-Allah
Date of birth: March 2, 1995
Place of birth: Safi, Morocco
Club: Wydad AC
Born and raised in the city of Safi, Yahya was trained in the Najm Safi academy, before joining the OC Safi, one of the oldest clubs in the Kingdom. He then attempted to play at a higher level when joining Greek side Volos NFC. But after just a couple of months, Yahya left the club by mutual consent. In fact, his opportunity to rise to a higher level was back in Morocco with giants Wydad AC. 18 months later, he would become twice Moroccan champion and one of the main characters in the club’s third successful Champions League campaign. “I always dreamt of being a part of a World Cup and God willing, I will be in Qatar. I hope Moroccan fans would turn out in numbers in Doha.”
4. Sofyan Amrabat
Date of birth: Aug. 21, 1996
Place of birth: Huizen, Netherlands
“Every day I caught the bus home from in front of the stadium, and I knew what I was working for. I was tired, but I knew why I was doing it.” Eight year old Sofyan Amrabat was positive about what dream he was chasing, but at the same time, he knew he had to work very hard for it and even make some sacrifices. Especially in his social life. “I haven’t changed my friends, because I know people think there are people who wouldn’t come to me if I wasn’t a football player. With the people you’ve known since you were young, it’s different. The same with girls – sometimes you don’t know if they would give you the same attention if you weren’t a football player. Some players make friends easily, but you don’t know if they’re real friends.”
8. Azeddine Ounahi
Date of birth: April 19, 2000
Place of birth: Casablanca, Morocco
“Since I’m 5 or 6 years old, I played against opponents twice my height”. Azeddine Ounahi has always been aware of his lack of physical power and so he ran with the ball. He ran when he played the Danone Cup, he ran when he first joined the Mohammed VI Football Academy in Rabat and he ran to join French football. In Angers SCO, he even ran almost 14 kilometres in a single Ligue 1 game, setting a new record for distance covered by a player in one match. This season, he’s only second to one Lionel Messi in terms of successful dribbling. Needless to say, his presence within the national team, although very recent, is inevitable.
10. Anass Zaroury
Date of birth: Nov. 7, 2000
Place of birth: Mechelen, Belgium
Having played for various under-age categories with Belgium, where he was born, Zaroury was called up for the Morocco squad just days before the World Cup after an injury to Amine Harit. Zaroury learned his trade in the famous Jean-Marc Guillou Academy, where young players often have to wait for months before earning the right to wear boots. “Every week, there is a whole set of exercises, but you have to reach a certain stage to have the right to wear boots”, he remembers. After stints with Lommel and Charleroi he joined Burnley this summer and he has made quite an impact with eight goal contributions (six goals and two assists). His manager, Vincent Kompany, said: “It’s a player who I knew from when he was much younger. You can look into performances, but a lot of the time if you have a clear idea of what you want players to do for your team then it’s just about whether they can tick the boxes – and he can.”
11. Abdelhamid Sabiri
Date of birth: Nov. 28, 1996
Place of birth: Goulmima, Morocco
Born in the city of Goulmima, an oasis in the torrid desert southeast of Morocco, Sabiri moved with his parents to Germany when he was 3. “I’m not from the most beautiful corner [of Frankfurt] but that shaped me. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted my dreams to come true.” Abdelhamid got into professional football almost by chance when Koblenz U19 coach Vincenzo Di Maio tried to widen his search for new talents. “A friend of mine has an academy in Frankfurt for boys from social hotspots, I contacted him because our squad was rather thin and we were looking for players. We wanted to have [Sabiri] and another boy and they were fired up straight away, wanting to take the next step and get out of their little club.”
13. Ilias Chair
Date of birth: Oct. 30, 1997
Place of birth: Antwerp, Belgium
Club: Queens Park Rangers
“I’m not supposed to be here according to what I’ve heard in my young career. I’m supposed to be playing five-a-side in the streets. That’s what I’ve been told my entire life (…) That has always motivated me.” Born to a Moroccan father and a Polish mother, Ilias Chair not only faced criticism in when he was at a young age, but also racism. He couldn’t understand why his father Abdel was sitting by himself while following young Ilias playing. “At that moment of time, I didn’t realise it like that but, once I got older, I started going to my brother’s games. I started to see it. You ask yourself why. Racism is there – especially in Belgium. As Moroccans and North Africans, we were victims of racism a lot because there was a lot of crime and we’d get the blame for it. that’s how people thought for a long time and it needs to change.”
15. Selim Amallah
Date of birth: Nov. 15, 1996
Place of birth: Hautrage, Belgium
Club: Standard Liège
“We’ve got some good crowd in Standard Liège, but I’ve never seen anything like the Casablanca supporters” — Selim’s reaction to the Mohammed V audience roaring while Morocco secured a ticket to the World Cup in March 2022. Selim has grown up in Belgium but his ties with Morocco are strong. Before every game, he listens to “Reggada” music, famous in his family’s region of Rif (Northern Morocco). Even his favourite movies (Remember the Titans), actors (Denzel Washington) and videogames (Call of Duty) are all about excellency and dedication. In February 2022, during a Belgian D1A game, he wore a shirt with the name “Rayane” to pay homage to a kid who’s tragically fallen in a well in a little Moroccan town.
25. Yahya Jabrane
Date of birth: June 18, 1991
Place of birth: Settat, Morocco
Club: Wydad AC
There are a few players who played many World Cups, but how many of them have played in two “different” World Cups? This is Yahya Jabrane’s case, who started his career as a futsal player before making it to the pitch. At age 21, he was called up to participate in the 2012 Futsal World Cup, after the national team suffered a terrible accident where 3 players lost their lives and others were injured. Yahya played and scored Morocco’s first ever goal in a futsal World Cup. It would be tempting to make history by scoring in Qatar.
7. Hakim Ziyech
Date of birth: March 19, 1993
Place of birth: Dronten, Netherlands
Without playing a single minute in the Qatar 2022 Qualifiers, Hakim Ziyech’s shadow was cast over the national team. His feud with Vahid Halilhodzic cost the latter his place at the helm of the Atlas Lions, despite an astonishing record of 6 wins and 1 draw in a 7 games campaign. But to the general public, Ziyech was the incarnation of fantasy. Something Coach Vahid’s team seemed to never have. “I will never play under [the management of] this national team coach again, no matter what he does. Whether he flies high, flies low, stands on my doorstep, wants to sleep in my attic or in the basement, I will not play under the command of this coach,” Hakim is reported to have said to his entourage. Eventually, Moroccan FA couldn’t bare the pressure and Vahid got sacked. Ziyech played his comeback game in September 2022 — the first one under the management of Walid Regragui.
9. Abderrazzak Hamed-Allah
Date of birth: Dec. 17, 1990
Place of birth: Safi, Morocco
To be a successful striker in three different continents is a record not many players in Morocco have dreamed of. Abderrazzak Hamed-Allah was top scorer in the Moroccan league, despite playing only half of the season. He then proceeded to get the same honour in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where in 2019, he was named World Top Goal scorer by the IFFHS. But wherever Hamed-Allah achieved success, controversy was never far away. In Qatar, he was spotted outside the stadium even though his team’s game wasn’t over. He allegedly didn’t take it very well when his manager substituted him. In 2019, just prior to the Afcon, he quit the national team after having a heated discussion with teammate Fayçal Fajr over a penalty on a friendly game. Will Qatar 2022 be a chance of Redemption for the striker?
14. Zakaria Aboukhlal
Date of birth: Feb. 18, 2000
Place of birth: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Born to a Moroccan mother and a Libyan father, Zakaria was eligible to play for 3 countries. Eventually, he chose the Atlas Lions and made an impact almost every time he was involved. His choice may have met little reaction in the Netherlands, but it sparked huge reactions on the player’s social media from angry Libyan supporters. “It even got to threats. It was enough to lock my profile for a while. I wasn’t afraid, but you need to avoid so much negativity.” Zakaria told Dutch media. Despite being one of the youngest on the team list, Zakaria is a mature person and he even is allowed to be an Imam during prayers, as he knows Quran and has a nice voice. Joining Toulouse and its ambitious US stamped project last summer seems like a clever career choice, as his game is becoming better and better.
16. Abdessamad Ezzalzouli
Date of birth: Dec. 17, 2001
Place of birth: Beni Mellal, Morocco
In more tactically and physically rigorous football, players who have the ability to dribble past layers of defenders are appreciated. “Abde” is this kind of player. Whether it was with Hercules, with Barcelona or with the Atlas Lions, the kid is a sensational asset when it comes to breach the opposing guards. But that ability isn’t active when it comes to both controversy and interviews. In January 2022, he refused to join the Atlas Lions in their Afcon campaign, sparking outrage on Moroccan social media. He then found an understanding with the FA and joined the team when it was time to qualify for the World Cup. Perhaps, Abde’s most memorable highlight on a screen is, so far, his funny and honest answer to a Barça TV reporter who asked him what was Xavi Hernandez’ words to him before a game. “You caught me there! He told to go head-on, so I go head-on”. Abde even repeated ironically the first part of his comment, when presented to the media as a new player for Osasuna.
17. Sofiane Boufal
Date of birth: Sept. 17, 1993
Place of birth: Paris, France
At the end of disastrous 2017-18 campaign with Southampton, where the club got relegated from Premier League, Sofiane Boufal lost his spot in the national team, missing the World Cup. “It was a slap to my face. It was because I gave the stick with which I was beaten. I swore to myself that it wouldn’t happen again.” Sofiane’s return to Angers SCO turned out to be a proof that “Soso” has really matured and learned from his mistakes. When he suffered a serious injury 3 weeks after Morocco secured a spot in Qatar 2022, “I didn’t say ‘Why me?’ I immediately set the World Cup as my goal. Before surgery, I spoke to my agent for 4 or 5 hours to plan my return.” One thing is sure, Boufal will dribble any opponent and that’s something he would never change. “It’s either you’re crazy about me, or I’ll drive you crazy”.
19. Youssef En-Nesyri
Date of birth: June 1, 1997
Place of birth: Fes, Morocco
He was the last player to be called up for the 2018 World Cup, but scored a memorable goal that almost cost Spain a place in the last 16, jumping and heading over Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué. In a passionate, sometimes even crazy about football country, it doesn’t help to be more efficient that aesthetic. And despite being the joint Moroccan top scorer in the UEFA Champions League and the only international to score in four consecutive major competitions, En-Nesyri is an easy target for critics. “I try to contribute to the team’s effort and make the best out of the minutes the coach gives me. I call on supporters who criticize me to not do it using insults. Our families are also on social media and they read your insults.”
21. Walid Cheddira
Date of birth: Jan. 22, 1998
Place of birth: Loreto, Italy
Not many in Morocco knew before he started scoring a bunch of goals for Serie B side SSC Bari. Nowadays, Walid Cheddira’s name is in every memory. Born on the Adriatic shore of Italy, Walid never made it to Serie A level, but can count on the support of a prestigious fellow countryman and former Bari defender Rachid Neqrouz, who honoured 53 caps and 159 Serie A games with the Puglia region club. After playing his first minutes in September friendlies against Chile and Paraguay, Walid showed his pride. “You can’t betray your origins, you can’t hide them neither. The call-up was an immense joy for me and my family”. Cheddira was followed by Italy’s national team coach Roberto Mancini, but it’s hard to beat the origins and the opportunity to play a World Cup. Walid keeps some good things from his native Loreto. “The pizza in Zia Emilia restaurant is the best. My favourite on the menu is the ‘Marrakech’”, made by Mohamed, a pizzaiolo Moroccan friend. You can’t argue with that either.
23. Bilal El Khannous
Date of birth: May 10, 2004
Place of birth: Strombeek-Bever, Belgium
The youngest player to ever represent Morocco in a World Cup. Born and raised in Belgium, the 18-year-old has always had a keen sense of his Moroccan roots. “When I was a kid, I’d run to the training ground at Anderlecht to get an autograph or a photo with [then-Morocco star] Mbark Boussoufa.” He says his decision to represent his grandparents’ country was “taken from the heart … I really want to make them proud.” He arrived in Qatar with no senior caps to his name, a surprise pick by Walid Regragui, who rates the diminutive dribbler very highly. He’s a big fan of futsal. “Sometimes I go to Brussels or Antwerp to see my friends play.”
24. Badr Benoun
Date of birth: Sept. 30, 1993
Place of birth: Casablanca, Morocco
Club: Qatar SC
Born in the poor suburbs of Casablanca, Benoun started his career with his beloved Raja CA. “It’s like you plucked someone from the Magana [Raja’s ultras stand] and let him play.” When he took his club to the title he led his teammates into the Magana to share the moment with fans. Badr made an impact right after joining African giants Al Ahly, with supporters nicknaming him “Sultan” for his elegant style, but earlier this year was ruled out for six months due to the impact Covid had on his heart. He moved to Qatar SC in July to build himself up with regular game-time before the World Cup. He’s not a shy character, and had a big falling out with then-coach Hervé Renard in 2018 after being cut from the final World Cup squad for Russia. “A year later he WhatsApped me to ask me to join the Afcon squad. I told him I was on holiday.”
The Canadian Premier League is proud to be part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified.