From persona non grata to key player in just three months, Hakim Ziyech suddenly carries Morocco’s hopes for the World Cup.
Hakim Ziyech scored twice for Chelsea as his country struggled unsuccessfully for the African crown in January. As the Moroccans laboriously climbed to the next level of continental qualification in June, their star sailed along the Dubai skyline in a luxury yacht.
Expelled, unwanted – and eventually resigned in frustration: Under coach Vahid Halilhodzic, the noble technician played no part in the « Atlas Lions ».
The sometimes dirty power struggle opened a rift too deep for coexistence, there could only be one for the World Cup. And also under the pressure of the population, the balance tipped on the side of the star player of the association.
Morocco coach: Ziyech is not « just any player »
Bosnia Halilhodzic exited at the end of August, Ziyech returned to the squad in September under new coach Walid Regragui – and is returning confidence to the World Cup with solid performances.
The 29-year-old so far won a magnificent goal and an assist in the Moroccans’ sensational run in Qatar, and as a powerful right winger he fit perfectly into the harmonious structure of the team .
« In the past, some coaches said that all players should be treated the same, » Regragui said after beating Spain in the round of 16. “But Hakim is not just any player. »
Halilhodzic saw it differently, he didn’t allow Ziyech, who was born in Dronten in the Netherlands, to have airs and graces. Instead, Bosnia complained of « behaviour not befitting a national player ». He doesn’t want to train, he doesn’t want to play, he’s not serious,” the ex-coach said.
Return after a break
The Chelsea FC reserve, who has been heavily criticized in public, didn’t let pretensions sit down, expressed his love for Morocco – and resigned himself to insulting himself.
From June 2021 to September 2022, Ziyech did not contest any international matches before Regragui and Bayern professional Noussair Mazraoui convinced him to return.
« He gives off a positive energy, » says the coach of his key striker. Captain Romain Saiss called him « a strong personality who never improved problems for national team players ».
On Saturday (4:00 p.m. CET/ZDF and MagentaTV) against Portugal, Ziyech must once again lead the way as a team player for the sequel to the Moroccan winter fairy tale.