Frankfurt – The coach of Morocco’s national football team, Vahid Halilhodzic, plans to restructure the team and is considering enlisting more local Moroccan players. Halilhodzic made the comments at a press conference in Tangier on Monday, October 14, reported Maghreb Arab Press (MAP), before Tuesday’s friendly against Gabon.
“I do not know enough the level and skills of local players,” admitted Halilhodzic, who has only been coaching the Atlas Lions since August. The coach has called up 40 players for evaluation. If they prove to be capable football players, they may earn a spot in the national team.
Halilhodzic also repeated his line that the Atlas Lions are “in the process of major reconstruction.” Moroccan fans were disappointed with the team’s performance at the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2019 in Egypt in June. Halilhodzic hopes to improve the team’s prospects in the upcoming CAN 2021 qualifiers with restructuring.
In the meantime, ahead of Tuesday’s friendly match against Gabon, Halilhodzic tried to set expectations low. While he said the team is “rebuilding some things,” he noted, “We should not expect a good result … or a good game on the field.”
The coach explained that many of Morocco’s best players are off duty due to injury, are aging out of the game, or cannot play some games with the national team because their clubs do not want them to.
The captain of the Atlas Lions, Mehdi Benatia, retired from playing with the Moroccan team earlier this month. Benatia had played with the Lions for more than a decade.
Lately, the Atlas Lions have been playing in a series of friendly games. Morocco drew against Burkina Faso (1-1), won against Niger (1-0), and drew against Libya (1-1). After Friday’s game against Libya, Halilhodzic said he was disappointed with the team’s performance.
Will the international team become more local?
Many of Morocco’s starting eleven are famously dual citizens. Many were born to Moroccan parents in European countries, and when it came time to choose which country they would play for in international football, chose Morocco, even though most play professionally in European leagues.
In Morocco’s latest game, Libya’s sole goal came from Sanad El Ouarfali, who plays for Morocco’s own Raja Athletic Club (RCA) in Casablanca.
Only three of the 26 players Halilhodzic picked to play as starters or substitutes in the Libya and Gabon friendlies play for Moroccan clubs.
With Halilhodzic’s evaluations of 40 new players and restructuring, the composition of the Atlas Lions may change in the run up to the next CAN and World Cup.
Morocco will begin playing the qualifying games for CAN 2021 in November. The Atlas Lions are in CAN’s Group 5 and will play against Mauritania, Central African Republic, and Burundi.