Gambling on Hakim Ziyech pays off for Morocco in Qatar

Chuck Blake

Updated: Dec 07, 2022 02:57

Gambling on Ziyech pays off for Morocco


Despite recent struggles with club and country, the Moroccan star is having a wonderful FIFA World Cup.

Ziyech has assisted on two goals and scored one for Qatar 2022.

The Chelsea winger beat Spain in the penalty shootout and scored.

A talented wide winger came close to moving to AC Milan last summer.

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The president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, Fouzi Lekjaa, was so determined to have Hakim Ziyech rejoin the team that he was prepared to take over for then-head coach Vahid Halilhodzic in order to make it happen.

In fact, Lekjaa replaced the Bosnian manager with the Moroccan tactician Walid Regragui despite the fact that he had successfully guided the Atlas Lions through FIFA World CupTM qualification. The players were promptly brought together by the new coach, who also rapidly resolved any conflicts among them before giving them a one objective: to perform admirably in Qatar 2022.

Despite a lackluster start to the season with club side Chelsea, Morocco's No. 7 has put up a great performance at the tournament, supporting Lekjaa's choice. The Atlans Lions defeated Spain in the Round of 16 to advance further in the competition than the golden generation of 1986 did in Mexico, and Ziyech has played a significant part in the team's historic success of doing so.

Ziyech has joined a long list of players given a shot at redemption by a World Cup, repaying the faith placed in him by the Moroccan federation, his national coach, and the supporters who requested his return at Qatar 2022.


Out in the cold

The now-29-year-old moved there in 2016, and after three successful seasons with Ajax despite intense attention from several major European teams, he signed with Chelsea for a cost of 40 million euros in the summer of 2020.

Due in part to injuries and his difficulties adjusting to the Premier League, his first season in London was challenging. However, despite the fact that the majority of analysts anticipated a considerable improvement in his second season, 2021/22, things actually became worse.

Frustration and disappointment have likewise characterized the start of the 2022–23 season, with Ziyech having played only 270 minutes for his team across all competitions and coming up empty-handed. This has sparked speculation about a probable January move from Chelsea, particularly in light of how nearly he was leased to AC Milan during the previous transfer window.

Due to differences with former coach Halilhodzic, Ziyech had also been absent from his national setup for a while. New manager Regragui made the decision to reintegrate him, and at Qatar 2022, he undoubtedly made an impact.


A roaring lion

Ziyech participated in all three of Morocco's games in Russia 2018 and did quite well, but this year's competition has taken him and his teammates to a new level.

The cunning left-footer played 76 minutes against Canada after scoring a fantastic long-range goal to aid his team to a 2-1 victory that solidified their position atop the group. Additionally, he provided an assist in Morocco's crucial 2-0 victory over Belgium.

That performance against the Red Devils was arguably his best showing at the World Cup so far, and was he duly rewarded with the Player of the Match trophy. When he was asked who had helped him get to this point, he responded: “Everyone: the coach, the players and the team.”

Against Spain, Ziyech performed brilliantly in both defence and attack, causing his opponents significant problems from wide areas. He was also on target in the penalty shootout, scoring Morocco’s second attempt to give them a 2-0 lead after Yassine Bounou had saved Spain’s first two spot kicks.

The Atlas Lions’ ambitions will surely now go beyond qualification for the quarter-finals, where they face a Portugal side who thumped Switzerland in their own last-16 tie.

“We want to win the World Cup,” was the bold statement by coach Regragui, before adding: “Why shouldn’t we dream? Dreaming is human nature. If you don’t have a dream, you’ll never achieve anything.”

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