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Morocco at the World Cup: Semi-Final awaits for EFL duo

9 December 2022

Morocco’s National Team made history on Saturday, beating Euros winners Portugal to reach the World Cup Semi-Final stage for the first time.

Morocco had already knocked out 2010 World Cup winners Spain in the Round of 16, and became the first African side to reach the last four by overcoming Cristiano Ronaldo and company in Qatar - they will now face defending champions France on Wednesday for a place in the Final.

Two current EFL stars have experienced the journey first-hand, with Queens Park Rangers midfielder Ilias Chair and Burnley winger Anass Zaroury both part of the 26-man squad.

Ahead of their momentous match-up with Portugal on Saturday, here’s a deep dive into the careers of the Moroccan duo.

Ilias Chair

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Born in Belgium, Chair spent time in Club Brugge’s academy, as well as the JMG Academy, before joining Lierse SK.

The talented midfielder made his competitive debut at the age of 17, but the Club’s relegation at the conclusion of the 2015/16 season limited his first-team opportunities the following year.

Leaving as a free agent in January 2017, Chair travelled to West London for a trial at QPR and penned a deal to link up with the Under-23s after convincing head of coaching, Chris Ramsey.

By August of that year, he was making his first appearance in English football, being introduced as a second-half substitute in a 1-0 Carabao Cup victory over Northampton Town.

A full debut came in the next round against Brentford before making his Sky Bet Championship bow at Preston North End in December 2017.

Chair capped off the campaign with his first senior goal, a neat volley in a 3-1 win against Birmingham City.

However, it was a Sky Bet League Two loan move to Stevenage that truly sparked his career into life.

In 16 appearances, Chair scored six times and produced several dazzling displays, encouraging then-manager Dino Maamria to describe him as “the best player that has ever worn the Stevenage shirt.”

Just three games into his temporary switch, he netted two stunning long-range strikes in the final three minutes to secure a 2-2 draw at Lincoln City.

Diminutive in size but immense in ability, the 5ft 2in midfielder – the shortest player at this year’s World Cup – became renowned for producing the spectacular during his time at the Boro, adding to his collection of screamers with a 35-yarder against MK Dons and an outrageous effort from his own half against Swindon Town.

Since that successful six-month stint, the 25-year-old has established himself as one of the most influential players in the R’s line-up, amassing over 150 appearances since the start of the 2019/20 season and drawing comparisons to fellow countryman and former QPR star Adel Taarabt.

Chair has also taken his goalscoring form back to his parent Club, scoring 25 times for the Hoops, including a thunderous strike against Blackburn Rovers that won the Championship Goal of the Month award in October 2021.

On the international scene, he’s been capped on 10 occasions by Morocco since his debut in a 1-0 win against Ghana in June 2021, but has yet to feature for his country in Qatar.

Anass Zaroury

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Zaroury started the season with an opening day goal for Royal Charleroi in the Belgian First Division, but has rose to prominence since making the switch to Burnley at the end of August.

Like Chair, the 22-year-old was born in Belgium and was part of the JMG Academy. Despite playing some youth football for KV Mechelen in his early years, he didn’t take a regular route into the professional game.

Aged 10, the promising winger joined the JMG Academy, which focuses on building players’ technique and game understanding in small-sided friendlies. Unaffiliated to a Club, he didn’t play a competitive 11-a-side match until he was 16, when he signed for Zulte Waregem.

From there, Zaroury attracted the attention of Lommel SK in the Belgian Second Division in 2019, working under then-manager Liam Manning, who is now the man in charge at MK Dons in Sky Bet League One.

After a slow start, he blossomed into a dynamic attacking threat, finishing his debut campaign in senior football with seven goals and four assists in 25 league outings.

A move to top-flight Charleroi quickly followed in 2021, where he made an instant impact, scoring five times – three in his first five games – in 39 appearances to further boost his stock.

Having faced Vincent Kompany's Anderlecht twice during the 2021/22 campaign, Zaroury's performances made enough of an impression for the former Manchester City captain to swoop for his services after taking over managerial duties at Burnley.

Arriving for an undisclosed fee on a four-year contract, Zaroury has quickly found his feet at Turf Moor. 

Since opening his account for the Clarets in just his second start against Swansea City in mid-October, the former Belgium youth international has netted six times in nine appearances in all competitions, including a stoppage-time winner against Reading and the second goal during a 3-0 victory over local rivals Blackburn Rovers.

Already a fan favourite at his new Club, Zaroury's impact caught the eye of the Moroccan National Team, having previously represented Belgium at Under-17, Under-18 and Under-21 level.

Invited into the World Cup squad just a week before the tournament started as an injury replacement, he's ready and waiting for an opportunity to showcase his talent on the world stage.


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