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About Morocco


Morocco

FIFA Rank: 72
Coach: Rachid Taoussi
Captain: Houssine Kharja
Nickname: Lions of the Atlas
Previous AFCON finish: Round 1

AFCON PEDIGREE:

As winners of the 1976 Africa Cup on Nations, Morocco have failed to replicate that feat in the decades that have followed. They have been involved in 14 editions of the competition, finishing in third place in 1980 and runners up in the 2004 showpiece.

Known as the 'Lions of the Atlas', Morocco's highest ever FIFA ranking was achieved in April 1998, when they were named as the tenth best team in world football.

They boast the record of becoming the first African nation to progress to the second round of the FIFA World Cup, which was achieved in the 1986 installment of the competition. Their impressive performances on the world stage signaled a golden period for the national team, who narrowly missed out on repeating that feat in 1998.

Their biggest win came against Saudi Arabia in September, 1961, a 13-1 victory on home soil, while their heaviest defeat was a 6-0 mauling at the hands of Hungary in Japan three years later.

Morocco were due to make their first appearance in the 1962 AFCON before the decision was made to withdraw from the competition. They eventually went on to make their AFCON debut in 1972 and would bow out in the first round after losing out narrowly to Congo, who finished second in Group B.

They have experienced mixed fortunes since their debut appearance, winning the AFCON in 1976 and finishing in third place in 1980.

The Lions of the Atlas have twice finished in fourth place (1986, 1988). In 1998 they made it to the quarter finals, losing 2-1 to South Africa in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Despite arriving in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as 'dark horses' for the 2012 tournament, they failed to progress from a group containing Gabon, Tunisa and Niger, finishing third, with a record of two losses and a victory over Niger.

However, they managed to reclaim some of their former glory after being crowned the 2012 Arab Nations Cup champions by defeating Libya on penalties in the final after overcoming the most successful team in the history of the tournament and record holder, Iraq, in the semifinals.

They enjoyed mixed results leading up to the 2013 AFCON with former coach Eric Gerets sacked after a 2-0 loss away to Mozambique in the second qualifying round first leg before the new man at the helm Rachid Taoussi guided the Lions to a 4-0 win at home to secure qualification.

Morocco will host the next Nations Cup in 2015.

SQUAD OVERVIEW:

A significant number of the Morocco squad are overseas-based players, with their players spread across France, Germany, England and Spain. A significant amount do make their living in Morocco, with coach Taoussi putting out teams of locally based players for a number of matches.

Adel Taarabt (Queens Park Rangers) and Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal) are two more well-known attacking players for Lions of the Atlas, while skipper Houcine Kharja, who now plays for Qatar side Al-Arabi Sports Club after many years in Italy, most recently with Fiorentina, will be pulling the strings in midfield. Udinese star Medhi Benatia is one of the most sought-after defenders, with the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham credited with interest in the 25-year-old. He will be a key men for Morocco in defence.

FULL SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Khalid Askiri (Raja Casablanca), Nadir Lamyaghri (Wydad Casablanca), Anas Zniti (Moghreb Fes)

Defenders: Abderahim Chakir (FAR Rabat), Abdelatif Nousseir (Moghreb Fes), Issam El Adoua (Guimaraes/POR), Mehdi Benatia (Udinese/ITA), Zakarya Bergdich (Lens/FRA), Ahmed Kantari (Brest/FRA), Abdelhamid El Kaoutari (Montpellier/FRA)

Midfielders: Karim El Ahmadi (Aston Villa/ENG), Abdelaziz Barrada (Getafe/ESP), Chahir Belghazouani (Ajaccio/FRA), Younes Belhanda (Montpellier/FRA), Adil Hermach (Al Hilal/KSA), Kamal Chafni (Brest/FRA), Mehdi Namli (Moghreb Tetouan)

Strikers: Nordin Amrabat (Galatasaray/TUR), Youssef El Arabi (Granada/ESP), Oussama Assaidi (Liverpool/ENG), Abderrazak Hamdallah (Olympique Safi), Mounir El Hamdaoui (Fiorentina/ITA), Youssef Kadioui (FAR)

Player to Watch: Younes Belhanda

Getafe’s Abdelaziz Barrada and Mehdi Benatia, the sought-after Udinese defender with a knack for scoring goals, come into the reckoning. However, we are going to plump for Younes Belhanda. The midfielder was voted the UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year 2011-2012. He was one of the key players as Montpellier surprised many by winning the French Ligue 1 title last season. Without the mercurial Adel Taarabt who has been dropped from the final squad, the contribution of Belhanda will be even more important if Morocco are to progress in the competition. Look out for his trademark mohawk as he struts his stuff in the centre of the park. The 22-year-old will be tasked with supplying the ammunition to the strikers.

Rising Star: Oussama Assaidi

Oussama Assaidi started his career as a 17-year-old at Eredivisie side Almere City and has since represented De Graafschap where he played for just one season before moving to Heerenveen. It was here that he established himself as one for the future with some assured displays, particularly in wins against Willem II and then champions FC Twente - a game in which he scored the first hat-trick of his career as well as providing two assists and winning a penalty in a 6-2 victory. The youngster earned a move to Premier League side Liverpool in August 2012, but has yet to establish himself as a regular in the Reds first team. A good AFCON 2013 will surely put him firmly in the Premier League sides’ first-team plans for the remainder of the season.

Sorely Missed: Adel Taarabt

Adel Taarabt is a footballer with the ability to wow and frustrate in equal measure. The Queens Park Rangers attacker would have been hoping to use AFCON 2013 to finally showcase his full potential. Perhaps it was his inconsistency, or maybe his maverick tendencies, that led to his being dropped from Morocco’s 24-man provisional AFCON squad. He has spoken of his desire to play at the very top - Barcelona and Real Madrid just two of the clubs he has previously mentioned. A good showing at this year's African showpiece would certainly have gone a long way to helping him get there.

ROAD TO FINALS

Morocco, who failed to progress beyond round one from their 2012 Africa Cup of Nations campaign, qualified for the 2013 edition with a 4-2 aggregate win over Mozambique.

By virtue of having played at AFCON 2012, they were rewarded with a bye to the second round of qualification where they overturned a 2-0 loss in Maputo by recording a resounding 4-0 victory in Marrakech.

Daniel Almiro Lobo, better known as Miro, got on the scoresheet in the 75th minute of their first leg with Mamelodi Sundowns' Elias Gaspar "Domingues" Pelembe securing the win with his stoppage time effort.

But there was no stopping the Lions of the Atlas on their home patch where Abdelaziz Barrada opened the scoring after 39 minutes in a tightly contested first half before goals from Houssine Kharja (64 pen), Youssef El-Arabi (85) and Nordin Amrabat, in the fourth minute of extra time, rounded off a convincing win.

Qualifying Results:

Second round, first leg
Mozambique 2-0 Morocco
Second round, second leg
Morocco 4-0 Mozambique

Ten things you never knew about Morocco

1. The word tangerine, which is what the rest of the world calls Naartjies, comes from the name of the Moroccan city Tangier.

2. QPR’s Moroccan winger Adel Taarabt was so incensed at being substituted at half-time of his side’s 6-0 mauling by Fulham, that he left the stadium and caught a bus home. The Mirror reported: “Fans were stunned to see the temperamental forward, still dressed in a club tracksuit, waiting at a bus stop near the ground before the game had even finished.”

3. Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh is more than just a footballer. He has a degree in accounting and he plays an active role in politics. In Morocco's 2010 regional elections he was listed as a candidate for the Democratic Movement Political Party.

4. The University of Karueein is said to be the oldest university in the world. It was founded in 859 A.D. in Fez.

5. Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the U.S. in 1777.

6. Morocco’s most capped player is Noureddine Naybet the former Spurs defender. In 1999 Naybet was on the brink of a move to Manchester United only for things fall through after he failed a medical. In the end United signed Mikaël Silvestre instead.

7. The Moroccan national football team is known as the Atlas Lions.

8. Morocco is the last monarchy in northern Africa. There is a partially elected National Assembly, but King Mohammed VI holds real power.

9. Former Moroccan international Mustapha Hadji was named CAF African Player of the Year in 1998 following his outstanding performances for The Atlas Lions at the World Cup. He is the only Moroccan player to have won the award.

10. Morocco was the first African team to win a group at the World Cup. They did this in 1986, finishing ahead of Portugal, Poland, and England. They were also the first African team to make it to second round where they lost narrowly, 1-0, to eventual runners-up West Germany in 1986.

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