Morocco has made waves in the 2022 World Cup by becoming the first African nation in history to reach the semifinals, and they’ve done so by assembling a unique squad that is unlike any other at the World Cup.
Of the 26 players representing The Atlas Lions, 14 were born outside of the country, more than any other team that has competed intros years World Cup.
On their way to the semifinals, they drew with fellow semifinalist Croatia, defeated Belgium 2-0 and beat Canada 2-1 in the knockout stages. Morocco then defeated Spain 3-0 in the Round of 16 in penalties, defeated Portugal 1-0 in the quarterfinals, and have a date with destiny against France today in the semis. Outside of Croatia and Portugal, there has been at least one Moroccan player who has faced the country of their birth.
While 12 of Morocco’s players were born in the country, two were born in Spain, one was born in Italy, two in France, one in Canada, and four were born in both the Netherlands and Belgium.
The most high-profile instance of a Moroccan player facing up against their country of birth in this World Cup was Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi against Spain. He scored an audacious panenka against his country of birth, Spain, to send Morocco through into the next round. Hakimi grew up in Madrid and played in Real Madrid’s youth academy, but he decided to represent his family's home country.
“I think I made the decision to play for Morocco because it’s where my parents come from, how they raised me in a Moroccan, Muslim home, so I thought I’d be more comfortable playing for the Morocco national team,” Hakimi said. (Bundesliga)
Although there is less flexibility in terms of which teams players can represent at the international level, there are mechanisms that allow for players to choose between various nations.
Morocco head coach Walid Regragui is of this same mold. He was born in France, but he also represented Morocco as a foreign-born player, making a second place run in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004.
“Before this World Cup we had a lot of problems about the guys born in Europe and guys not born in Morocco and a lot of journalists said, ‘Why don’t we play with guys born in Morocco?’,” said coach Walid Regragui, himself a former foreign-born international.
“Today we have shown that every Moroccan is Moroccan. When he comes to the national team he wants to die, he wants to fight. As the coach, I was born in France, but nobody can have my heart for my country.” (Reuters)
High profile players on other national teams who represent countries they were not born in are Matt Cash (Poland), Sergino Dest (USA).