World Cup semifinalist Morocco recruits France U21 player Diop to start qualifying for 2026 edition

AP , Thursday 9 Nov 2023

World Cup semifinalist Morocco will start its qualifying campaign for the 2026 tournament with a newly-recruited France Under-21 player named in the squad for the first time Thursday.

Hakimi
Ghana s forward Kamaldeen Sulemana (C) vies with Morocco s defender Achraf Hakimi during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Morrocco and Ghana at Ahmadou-Ahidjoe stadium in Yaounde, on January 10, 2022. AFP

 

Sofiane Diop, a midfielder with French league leader Nice, was picked by coach Walid Regragui for the scheduled games at home to Eritrea next Thursday and in Tanzania on Nov. 21.

The 23-year-old Diop was born in France and has family ties to Morocco and Senegal. FIFA rules let players change their national eligibility before they have played a senior competitive game.

“He’s a player who could have chosen other countries also,” Regragui said at a news conference. “He’s deserved to be with us.”

Eritrea is reportedly withdrawing its team from the qualifying campaign, but Regragui said FIFA has not yet confirmed cancellation of the game with Morocco in Agadir.

At the 2022 World Cup, Regragui called on several players from the Moroccan diaspora in Europe to build a squad that stunningly became the first African country to reach the semifinals.

Morocco topped a group ahead of Croatia, the 2018 World Cup beaten finalist that also reached the semifinals last year, and eliminated No. 2-ranked Belgium.

Regragui then helped Morocco eliminate Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds before his injury-hit team lost 2-0 to France. Morocco has now united with Spain and Portugal and will co-host the 2030 World Cup.

Morocco starts as strong favorite in Group E in African qualifying for the 2026 tournament being hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Africa has nine guaranteed places in the expanded 48-team lineup.

Morocco also will play Niger, Republic of Congo and Zambia and only the group winner in October 2025 will qualify.

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