Malta Independent

Morocco counting on Boufal, Ziyech for goals at World Cup


Youssef En-Nesyri's goal drought sharpens the focus on others to score for Morocco at the World Cup in Qatar.

En-Nesyri has not scored for Sevilla in the Spanish league, after netted 18 league goals two seasons ago.

En-Nesyri has considerab­le experience with 49 internatio­nal appearance­s and 14 goals, including a header against Spain at the 2018 World Cup.

His ability to stop opposing defenders from passing the ball out cleanly also makes him a valuable asset.

But he's not scoring, whereas Sofiane Boufal is.

At 29 years old, Boufal is entering his peak years and four of his five internatio­nal goals have come this year. He's also netted three in 10 games for Angers in the French league this season.

He's long been a talent, albeit inconsiste­nt.

Five years ago, Boufal scored an astonishin­g goal for Southampto­n, running from deep inside his own half and dribbling past five players. He won the 2017–18 Premier League goal of the season award.

While Boufal is coming back to form, Hakim Ziyech is returning from an exile imposed by former Morocco coach a dispute over a supposed unwillingn­ess to play in a friendly game.

"A player who refuses to train, who refuses to play, who feigns injury, for me the story is over," Halilhodzi­c said on Croatian TV channel Nova TV in April. "The national team is sacred."

Despite guiding the Atlas Lions to the tournament, Halilhodzi­c was fired in August. The Moroccan soccer federation said it was because of disagreeme­nts in preparing the team for the World Cup, where Morocco has a tough draw in Group F.

The team will open against 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia on Nov. 23 before facing 2018 semifinali­st Belgium and then Canada.

Morocco replaced Halilhodzi­c with Walid Regragui, a 47-yearold Moroccan who made 45 internatio­nal appearance­s as a right back. Last season, Regragui led Moroccan club Wydad Casablanca to the league and CAF Champions League titles.

Regragui immediatel­y recalled Ziyech — who was so unhappy under the disciplina­rian Halilhodzi­c that he even announced his internatio­nal retirement — for a 2-0 victory over Chile and a 0-0 draw against Paraguay in warmups last month.

Against the Chileans, Regragui gave a glimpse of how his team could line up against Croatia by selecting Ziyech on the right and Boufal on the left, on either side of the spearpoint En-Nesyri.

It worked. Boufal scored, as did Abdelhamid Sabiri, a regular scorer in Italy with Sampdoria who got his first internatio­nal goal.

Once nicknamed "The Wizard" by Ajax fans, Ziyech has a point to prove, too, after flopping at the last World Cup in Russia.

He kicked the air when missing an easy early chance in a 10 loss to Iran in their tournament opener.

Ziyech and Boufal should get plenty of scoring chances if Achraf Hakimi is in form.

The Paris Saint-Germain right back is one of the best attacking fullbacks in world soccer and has pace, skill, good passing and an eye for shooting with eights goals in 53 games for Morocco.


Regragui's attack-minded approach means that skilful midfielder Younes Belhanda, who plays for Turkish club Adana

Demirspor, is pushing for a World Cup place after being recalled.

Belhanda brings valuable experience with 55 national team appearance­s. He won the league title with Montpellie­r in 2012, where he was a key provider for France striker Olivier Giroud. So Belhanda's slick passing might help EnNesyri rediscover his scoring touch.


Left back Adam Masina was ruled out after suffering a ruptured ligament in his right knee while playing in Italy with Udinese. Highly-rated West Ham center half Nayf Aguerd injured a knee during the offseason but he could be ready in time for Qatar.


Morocco, which is playing in its sixth World Cup after making its first appearance in 1970, became the first African team to reach the knockout round in 1986.

A remarkable performanc­e saw the Atlas Lions finish ahead of England, Portugal and Poland before being beaten by West Germany 1-0 in the round of 16.

 ?? ?? Vahid Halilhodzi­c — who had dropped the Chelsea winger in
Vahid Halilhodzi­c — who had dropped the Chelsea winger in

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