RABAT: Hakim Ziyech’s hopes of playing for Morocco at the World Cup finals later this year have been boosted after he was recalled to the national squad for two friendlies.
The 29-year-old Chelsea midfielder had announced in February that he was retiring from international football after a dispute with then coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who accused him of a lack of respect.
But last month Halilhodzic was dismissed due to “difference of opinion” over preparations for the World Cup, and was replaced by former Wydad Casablanca coach Walid Regragui.
That move was seen as likely to pave the way for a return by Ziyech, which Regragui confirmed on Monday as he presented his line-up for matches against Chile and Paraguay, the team’s last two pre-World Cup friendlies.
“I explained to him that we want the best players in the national team, he is one of them. He wanted to come back,“ the coach told journalists in Rabat on Monday.
“He’s a player who loves his country, which he has proved since the start.”
Regragui has also brought back “experienced” midfielder Younes Belhanda of Turkey’s Adana Demirspor, who had also clashed with Halilhodzic.
Regragui was born south of Paris and played as a defender for Toulouse, Ajaccio, Dijon and Grenoble as well as Racing Santander in Spain. He also won 45 caps for Morocco.
He was coach of FUS Rabat between 2014-2020 and briefly led Qatari club Al-Duhail.
He then coached Wydad for one triumphant season, leading the club to victory against Egypt’s Al-Ahly to win the African Champions League as well as clinching the Moroccan league title.
He quit Wydad last month and has now become the first Moroccan national to lead the Atlas Lions since 2016.
In Qatar, Morocco will face Croatia, Belgium and Canada in Group F. – AFP