Morocco’s Azzedine Ounahi is ready for bigger things after the boom of the World Cup

Azzedine Ounahi was at the heart of Morocco’s progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup, relentlessly controlling its power in the midfield and emerging as one of the tournament’s revelations. Yassine BounouHis penalty savers have been in the headlines in the last 16, but it was Ounahi that caught the eye of Spain coach Luis Enrique after the penalty shoot-out loss to Ma- rock. “I was surprised by (Ounahi). God, where did that boy come from?” asked Luis Enrique, amazed by the midfielder’s “spectacular” performance.

“He plays like the Spanish players. He plays really well. I’m surprised. He hasn’t stopped running, he must be exhausted.”

On Wednesday, he will face France, where he has forged his club career.

Just 18 months ago, Ounahi was toiling in France’s third division, his slender build having weathered the rigors of football in the lower leagues – an important stepping stone in his journey. his.

Ounahi is one of four players on the Morocco squad that is a product of the Mohammed VI Academy in Sale, a state-of-the-art facility opened in 2009 and designed to develop the country’s young talent.

Morocco’s huge investment in its football infrastructure – after numerous failed bids to host the World Cup – is paying off, as the Atlas Lions performance in Qatar demonstrated. shows.

Moroccan clubs are also the dominant force in African football today – the winners of the men’s and women’s Champions League as well as the League Cup.

In addition, the Atlas Lionesses became the first North African team to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup by finishing runners-up as hosts of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Those successes are reflected in the progress of 22-year-old Ounahi, who has made leaps and bounds since first signing for Strasbourg after leaving his homeland in 2018.

‘Phone rings quite a lot’

He is currently at Ligue 1 club Angers, who have made a habit of developing and selling players like Nicholas PenelopeKarl Toko Ekambi and the current captain of Morocco Romain Saiss.

They knew that it wouldn’t be long before Ounahi would leave.

“Does the phone ring? It rings quite a bit,” Angers chairman Said Chabane told France’s RMC of interest in Ounahi and compatriot Sofiane Boufal, who has also started every match in Qatar.

“You know very well that we cannot hold back a player who wants to leave,” added Chabane, who are bottom of the table in France’s top division after entering the World Cup break with seven consecutive defeats. next.

Ounahi made his Ligue 1 debut at the start of last season, gradually making his way into the Angers starting XI as he finished 14th.

He was called up by Vahid Halilhodzic for AFCON in Cameroon, made his first match in a 1–0 win over Ghana but was benched as Morocco reached the knockout stages.

An outsider in a tough quarter-final against Egypt, Ounahi seized his chance with both hands in the World Cup play-offs against the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Unused in the 1-1 draw in the first leg, Ounahi scored twice and provided an assist in the 4-1 win in the second leg to secure Morocco’s place in Qatar.

He has started 10 of his country’s 11 matches since then, everything counts for Walid Regragui, the former French-Moroccan international who replaced Halilhodzic as coach in August.

“Azzedine is a great player, he has many qualities at a high level, he is only 22 years old, he still has room to improve, but I think he will play for a big club.” Regragui said.

“He will have to make the right choices.”

Ounahi who excelled alongside the midfield enforcer Sofia Amrabat, is a reported target for Barcelona. Fiorentina star Amrabat, 26, is also said to be on Liverpool’s radar.

A distant relative outside of his homeland and France, where only Lionel Messi Having done more dribbles in Ligue 1 this season, surely few will forget the name Ounahi after the World Cup.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from an aggregated feed.)

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