World Cup

Ounahi of Morocco is ready for greater things after his World Cup breakthrough

Azzedine Ounahi, one of the tournament’s surprises, has been instrumental in Morocco’s route to the World Cup semifinals , persistently asserting his dominance over the midfield.

Despite Yassine Bounou‘s amazing penalty-saving performance in the round of 16, it was Ounahi who attracted Luis Enrique’s attention after Spain’s team’s shootout loss to Morocco.

“I was surprised by (Ounahi). My goodness, where does that boy come from?” asked Luis Enrique, in awe of the midfielder’s “spectacular” display.

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

He will play against France on Wednesday, the country where he started his club career.

Just 18 months ago, Ounahi was toiling away in the French third division, putting his thin frame through the rigors of lower-league football – a crucial stepping stone on his quest.

Four members of the Moroccan team, including Ounahi, are graduates of the Mohammed VI Academy in Sale, a cutting-edge building built in 2009 with the aim of nurturing the young talent of the nation.

After repeated unsuccessful efforts to host the World Cup, Morocco made a significant investment in its football infrastructure, which is now paying off, as evidenced by the Atlas Lions’ performance in Qatar.

Aside from winning the Confederation Cup and both the men’s and women’s Champions Leagues, Moroccan clubs are currently the dominant power in African football.

In addition, the Atlas Lionesses, who hosted this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, finished in second place, making them the first North African team to ever qualify for the Women’s World Cup.

These accomplishments are reflected in the development of the 22-year-old Ounahi, who has made great strides since joining Strasbourg in 2018 after abandoning his home country.

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