Rabat – As Morocco prepares to play more consequential, qualifying fixtures after a series of poor performances in friendly games, Morocco’s new coach has embarked on his first European tour to supervise Moroccan players already on his list and to discover new names to potentially reinforce his halting squad.
Sources from the Moroccan team’s technical staff have been quoted as saying that Halilhodzic is particularly in search of a striker to resolve Morocco’s recurring goal scoring issues. During his European tour, the sources said, according to reports, the Moroccan coach will meet with players already featuring in his plans as well potential reinforcement, especially bi-national talents who may add more tactical depth, urgency, and scoring efficiency to the Moroccan squad.
Weeks after he replaced Herve Renard as head coach of the Moroccan national football team, Halilhodzic has not particularly won over Moroccan fans and football commentators.
The Atlas Lions coach has repeatedly spoken about “reconstruction” and discipline, but the results on the field—two alarm-raising draws against Burkina Faso and Libya, an unimpressive 1-0 victory against Niger, and an even more concerning 3-2 defeat against Gabon—have suggested his burden or responsibility (which is the word he prefers), is far heavier than he thought when embarking on his Moroccan adventure.
In Halilhodzic’s defense, however, as he himself has markedly put it in pre and post-match conferences since he took over as Atlas Lions coach, a particularly stubborn issue with the Moroccan team is their perceived inability to score goals, to make a more effective use of their sometimes flamboyant passing style.
While technical with the ball at their feet, and sometimes apparently irresistible with quick passing and ball possession, the Moroccan Lions have lacked inspiration and urgency in terms of actually scoring goals. The Lions’ story at the recently concluded CAN is a case in point. So was their participation in the 2018 World Cup.
In both tournaments, Morocco impressed in ball possession and technique but struggled to translate its technical prowess into goals, leaving fans and observers with the accompanying sentiment of most disappointments: What if?
Morocco will play Mauritania on November 15 as part of the CAN 2021 qualifiers.
After exiting the 2019 CAN in what many Moroccan fans have described as one of the most devastating and humiliating scenes for Moroccan football, the new coach has been assigned with building a group that can win the next CAN and qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
“Coaching Morocco is a big responsibility and an honor,” Halilhodzic said during a press conference immediately after he was appointed to replace Renard. He stressed his own objectives, which dovetail with those of the Moroccan football authorities, in accepting Morocco’s coaching offer. “My first objective is to qualify for the World Cup. I will try to qualify a fourth consecutive national team.”
In that conference, the Moroccan coach was crystal clear about what he wanted his squad to be like. Consistency, discipline, urgency, and a sense of responsibility took the lion’s share of his proclaimed plan to succeed where a talent-soaked Moroccan group blew away the trust and admiration fans and commentators had lavished them with ahead of the recent CAN.
Morocco is among the most promising footballing nations in Africa by all available evidence.
The country’s national league is one of the most developed—and revered—on the continent and some of the Moroccan players in top European leagues—Ziyech and Hakimi come readily to mind; but Mbark Boussoufa and Younes Belhanda are not very far off the scale, and there are many emerging talents—are among the best in their respective positions.
But since the 2004 CAN, when host Tunisia beat Morocco in the final, the Lions have mostly disappointed in major tournaments.
With the persistence of the scoring issue and reports of old internal problems, it remains to be seen how Halilhodzic will implement his “reconstruction” and put forth a confident and reliable squad for CAN 2021 and the 2022 World Cup, the two explicitly cited goals in his contract with the Moroccan football federation.