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Halilhodzic's war with Ziyech puts Morocco in trouble

The Bosnian coach no longer wants to count on the Chelsea player, who could miss the World Cup in Qatar
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AFP/OLI SCARFF  -   Chelsea's Morocco midfielder Hakim Ziyech

The Moroccan culture is a special place for the players who are called up to the national team. It is also a special plus for the coaches who see how many players with dual nationality prefer to pursue an international career with the Atlas Lions. 

For some years now, these second-generation players are no longer born in Morocco because their parents work in countries such as Spain or the Netherlands. This is the case of Hakim Ziyech, born in Dronten (Netherlands), who played for the Dutch national youth team until, at the last moment, before making his senior debut, he decided to join Morocco in 2015. 

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AP/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH - Newcastle's Bruno Guimaraes, left, and Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech compete for the ball during the English Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Sunday, March 13, 2022.

It is possible that his culture is more European than Moroccan and that, combined with certain behaviours frowned upon by the Alawi federation, has meant that one of the best players in Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic's squad could miss the World Cup in Qatar. 

In March 2021, Ziyech already announced that he was quitting Morocco. It was after playing against Burundi in the Africa Cup of Nations. In June he returned to play two friendlies against Ghana and Burkina Faso, but the standoff has festered to such an extent that neither side wants to sit down and talk. "It is with great sadness that I have to announce that I will not play for Morocco. I am sorry to disappoint the fans. It was not an easy decision, but I feel I have no other choice. I gave everything for the national team for years and supported the team all my life. The Federation continues to spread misinformation about me and my dedication to my country and their actions make it impossible for me to be part of the squad," said the player in March, pointing the finger directly at Fouzi Lekjaa, the president of his country's federation.

The national team, sacred

The coach and the federation seem to be rowing in the same direction. The Bosnian has been able to win over the management by declaring that "the national team is something sacred, and it doesn't belong to the players, but to all these people". 

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AFP/JAVIER SORIANO - Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema (r) fights for the ball with Chelsea's Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyech during the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge stadium in London on April 6, 2022.

Rigour, discipline and dedication are the most outstanding aspects of the former striker who played for Velez Mostar, Nantes and PSG in the 1970s. He made the team from the French capital runner-up in the French league and winner of the French Cup in 2003, but continued his career in Turkey, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

On Ziyech he was very blunt, "I can't call a player like Ziyech, nor, even if he is Lionel Messi. He can ruin the atmosphere in the group". He accused the Chelsea player of lack of commitment "for the first time in my coaching career I have seen a player in the national team who doesn't want to train and say he is injured, although medical tests have shown that he can play. I will not tolerate this behaviour as long as I am coach. I have already forgiven him twice, a third time is too much," he said, recalling that he had given him several chances. 

The Moroccan federation, although they support Vahid Halilhodzic, are aware of the importance of the World Cup in Qatar and want to settle the quarrels between the players and the coach. 

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AFP/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD - Morocco's Bosnian coach, Vahid Halilhodzic

The last peace was sealed in Amsterdam, where Halilhodzic went to visit Noussair Mazraoui, an Ajax player who also refused to defend his country's shirt because of disagreements with the coach. 

In the case of Ziyech, the problems are more serious because the player's entourage say that Halilhodzic gave a press conference in which there was a lack of respect for the Blue's recently deceased father. The coach pointed out that it could be the player's father because of his age and had to quickly rectify this by saying that "unfortunately he is no longer here", something that the player took as an offence. 

Once the Premier is over and Ziyech is released from Chelsea commitments, there could be another meeting between the player and the Morocco coach so that the best batch of players can go to the World Cup with guarantees.