Morocco ensured their participation in the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Egypt this month after clinching top spot in Group B of qualification ahead of the likes of Cameroon, who also qualified after finishing second, Malawi and Comoros.
Despite beginning their qualification campaign with a defeat to Cameroon, Herve Renard’s men bounced back with victories over Malawi and Comoros to recapture their form.
Although they were held to consecutive draws by third-placed Malawi and bottom-placed Comoros in the reverse fixtures, Morocco sealed first place with a resounding win over Cameroon in their final game.
The Atlas Lions were knocked out in the group stages of the FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer, but played an attractive brand of football, earning a commendable point against Spain and narrowly losing out to Portugal and Iran.
As such, they will not be pushovers during the Africa Cup of Nations this month in Egypt, where they have been pitted alongside the likes of Ivory Coast, Namibia and South Africa in Group D.
However, their record in the continental tournament is far from prolific, despite winning the competition back in 1976 for the first and only time. The Atlas Lions were knocked out in the quarter-finals during the 2017 edition in Gabon and finished runners-up in the 2004 edition held in Tunisia.
Morocco have failed to qualify or get beyond the group stages in each of the remaining editions over the last two decades.
Despite that worrying trend, Renard will be buoyed by the recent performances of some of his key players during the recently concluded domestic seasons.
Morocco suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Gambia in a friendly this week and will next face Zambia on Sunday before they kick-off their AFCON campaign against Namibia next weekend.
Renard has opted against including Amine Harit, who endured a disappointing season with Schalke, Ayoub El Kaabi of Hebei China Fortune and Abdelkarim Baadi of Hassania Agadir in Morocco in the 23-man squad for the tournament.
Morocco full squad:
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Malaga), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti (IR Tanger)
Defenders: Marouane Da Costa (Al Ittihad), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton), Yunis Abdelhamid (Reims), Medhi Benatia (Al Duhail), Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund)
Midfielders: Karim El Ahmadi (Al Ittihad), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Saint Etienne), Mehdi Bourabia (Sassuolo), Mbark Boussoufa (Al Shabab), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Caen), Nordin Amrabat (Al Nassr), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax), Youssef En-Nesyri (Leganes), Sofiane Boufal (Celta Vigo), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahçe)
Forwards: Abderazak Hamed Allah (Al Nassr), Khalid Boutaib (Zamalek), Oussama Idrissi (AZ).
Hakim Ziyech - AFC Ajax
Hakim Ziyech has quickly established himself as a mainstay within the Moroccan national team since shifting his allegiances from the Netherlands, who he represented at youth level.
The 26-year-old was a major driving force behind Morocco qualifying for the 2019 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations and continued his good form into the FIFA World Cup in Russia last summer.
However, the recently concluded domestic season with Ajax has elevated his status even further, as he helped the team clinch a domestic double and played an integral role during their memorable run to the Champions League semi-final this term.
Ziyech produced outstanding numbers in all competitions this season, as he finished the campaign with 21 goals and 24 assists for Ajax.
The Africa Cup of Nations could be the icing on the cake for Ziyech, should Morocco maintain their uprising under the guidance of Renard. The mercurial winger was also the leading goal-scorer for the Atlas Lions during the qualification campaign for the tournament.
Achraf Hakimi - Borussia Dortmund
Achraf Hakimi has also enjoyed an impressive season out on loan with Borussia Dortmund, after leaving Real Madrid in search of regular playing time last summer.
The 20-year-old's development had taken a backseat due to his lack of regular involvement at the Santiago Bernabeu and he has benefited tremendously following his switch to the Bundesliga.
Hakimi clocked regular playing time at the Signal Iduna Park and was a handy addition to Lucien Favre's side that pushed Bayern Munich till the end, albeit unsuccessfully, in the Bundesliga title race.
The talented full-back also directly contributed to 10 goals in all competitions during the recently concluded season and will have an integral role to play for Morocco in Egypt this month.
Medhi Benatia - Al Duhail
Medhi Benatia is one of the most experienced campaigners within the Morocco national team and will captain the side in the Africa Cup of Nations this month.
The defender secured a move away from Europe with Al Duhail in Qatar during the winter transfer window earlier this season but has continued to play regular first-team football for his new club in the league and in the AFC Champions League.
Although Benatia does not ply his trade in Europe anymore, he remains a vital cog within the Atlas Lions' set-up and his wealth of experience will prove to be a huge asset to the team in Egypt.
The 32-year-old has earned 58 caps at senior level for Morocco since making his senior debut back in 2008. As such, he is expected to be a guaranteed starter under Renard during the 2019 edition of AFCON this month.
Morocco fixtures at AFCON 2019
Morocco vs Namibia - 23rd June
Morocco vs Ivory Coast - 28th June
South Africa vs Morocco - 1st July