Morocco’s World Cup preparations clouded by coach controversy

Morocco’s World Cup preparations clouded by coach controversy build-up to the World Cup has been overshadowed by controversy over the coach as they face a daunting task as they bid to replicate their 1986 feat when they became the first African nation to reach the second round.

Morocco sacked VahidHalilhodzic in August, a few months before the finals, after a long dispute between the Bosnian coach and the Moroccan FA president over player selection.

Last year, Halilhodzic excluded Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech and Bayern Munich defender NoussairMazraoui for disciplinary reasons and resisted calls by FA chief FouziLekjaa to restore them to the squad.

Halilhodzic was subsequently dismissed by the country’s FA, which appointed former Morocco international WalidRegragui as his successor after he impressed at club level.

Regragui, 47, included Ziyech and Mazraoui in his first squad and the pair started the friendlies against Chile and Paraguay in September.

“Hakim Ziyech has returned to the national team because he deserves it … When you see how Hakim plays, you say to yourself it is difficult not to include him in the World Cup (squad),” said Regragui.

The coach won the league title in Qatar with Duhail in 2020 before leading Morocco’s Wydad to the domestic league and African Champions League double this year.

Morocco have not made it past the group stage since reaching the second round in 1986 in Mexico and they are in a tough group that includes the world’s second-ranked team Belgium and the 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia plus fast improving Canada.

“I know that preparation for the World Cup was short … We will fight to make the Moroccan fans happy,” Regragui said after his appointment in early September.

Morocco, who lost only twice in 12 matches in 2022, begin their campaign in Qatar against Croatia, who lost to France in the 2018 final, before facing Belgium in their second Group F game.

They are hoping to defy expectations and clinch at least a point from each of their first two games before facing Canada in a match that may represent their best chance of recording their first victory at the finals since 1998. – Reuters

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