Moroccans are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Spain, making up just over 2% of the country’s population. Following Morocco’s victory over Spain in the round of last 16 of the World Cup, Moroccans took to the streets of their adopted country as they celebrated into the night their historic win.
Several of Morocco’s players were born outside of the North African state, but decided to represent the country of their heritage. Some of the squad members are Spanish citizens and could have represented the country in which they grew up in and eventually knocked out.
Below are some of the players who could have played for Spain if they didn’t choose to represent Morocco.
Considered as one of the most prolific players in the Morocco squad, Achraf Hakimi was born in Madrid. The PSG defender came through the Real Madrid youth academy and was predicted to become a star of world football. However, in an interview that appeared on Clarín, he revealed that he never had the desire to represent his country of birth on the international stage:
“I had contacts with the Spanish national team, but I always knew I would play for Morocco. I am a product of Moroccan culture. At home we have always spoken Arabic, my mother cooked Moroccan food and I am a practicing Muslim.”
“There were contacts when I was a youth player, I also went to the Spanish national team to try out with Luis de la Fuente. I spent a couple of days in Las Rozas and I saw that it wasn’t the right place for me. I didn’t feel at home. It wasn’t because of anything in particular, but because of what I felt, because it wasn’t what I had learnt and lived at home, which is the Arab culture, being Moroccan. I wanted to be here,” he added.
Since his decision to play for Morocco, Hakimi has established himself as one of the best right-backs in the world and has gained 58 caps for the national team. The 24-year-old won the Champions League with Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid in 2018 and is a popular figure in the Spanish media, even making an appearance in the Spanish talk show ‘La Resistencia‘ hosted by David Broncano.
Hakimi’s penalty against Spain proved to be the one that booked Morocco a place in the quarter-finals and knocked out his country of birth.
Munir Mohamedi was born in Melilla, an autonomous Spanish city in North Africa surrounded by Morocco. He came through Ceuta’s youth academy and spent most of his career in the Spanish Second Division.
With a chance to play for Spain remaining unrealistic, Munir was first called up to the Morocco national team in 2015 and was the country’s first-choice keeper at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The Al Wehda player has also made one appearance at the Qatar World Cup so far.
Abde Ezzalzouli was born in Beni Mellal in Morocco, but moved to the Spanish city of Elche at the age of seven. He came through the youth academies of several local clubs before making his professional debut for Hércules in 2019.
Recognising his talent, the 20-year-old was signed by Barcelona in 2021 and scored his first goal for the club in a match against Osasuna in the same year. He is currently on loan at the Pamplona-based side for the current season.
Ezzalzouli was first called to the Morocco U20 team in 2020 for the Arab Cup U-20, before receiving his first senior cap in September this year.
GSFN | Tom Cserép