Morocco has set its team for the upcoming 2013 Africa Cup of Nations competition in South Africa. Head Coach Rachid Taoussi announced his squad on Boxing Day in which he rang several changes to his 24-man squad.
Morocco has dropped Adel Taarabt and Marouane Chamakh in their 24-man provisional list for the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations. Taarabt had frequently voiced his intentiion of representing his nation at the tournament in South Africa next year despites pleas from his Queens Park Rangers manager to remain and help his club fight relegation. Chamakh's failure to get regular playing time with Arsenal has cost him his place in the squad.
On the other hand, Montpellier's Younes Belhanda and Fiorentina striker Mounir El Hamdaoui have both been included in the squad that includes seven home-based players.
Morocco's full squad:
Nadir Lamyaghri, Anas Zniti, Khalid Askri, Abderahim Chakir, Mehdi Benatia, Younes Belakhdar, El Adoua Issam, Ahmed Kantari, Abdelhamid El Kaoutari, Zakarya Bergdich, Karim El Ahmadi, Adil Hermach, Kamal Chafni, Mehdi Namli, Younes Belhanda, Abdelaziz Barrada, Nordin Amrabat, Chahir Belghazouani, Oussama Assaidi, Abdelilah Hafidi, Youssef Kadioui, Abderrazak Hamdallah, Youssef El Arabi, Mounir El Hamdaoui.
AFCON 2013 Profile:
FIFA Rank: 72
Coach: Rachid Taoussi
Captain: Houssine Kharja
Nickname: Lions of the Atlas
Previous AFCON finish: Round 1
As winners of the 1976 Africa Cup on Nations, Morocco have failed to replicate that feat in the decades that have followed. They have been involved in 14 editions of the competition, finishing in third place in 1980 and runners up in the 2004 showpiece.
Known as the 'Lions of the Atlas', Morocco's highest ever FIFA ranking was achieved in April 1998, when they were named as the tenth best team in world football.
They boast the record of becoming the first African nation to progress to the second round of the FIFA World Cup, which was achieved in the 1986 instalment of the competition. Their impressive performances on the world stage signalled a golden period for the national team, who narrowly missed out on repeating that feat in 1998.
Their biggest win came against Saudi Arabia in September, 1961, a 13-1 victory on home soil, while their heaviest defeat was a 6-0 mauling at the hands of Hungary in Japan three years later.
Morocco were due to make their first appearance in the 1962 AFCON before the decision was made to withdraw from the competition. They eventually went on to make their AFCON debut in 1972 and would bow out in the first round after losing out narrowly to Congo, who finished second in Group B.
They have experienced mixed fortunes since their debut appearance, winning the AFCON in 1976 and finishing in third place in 1980.
The Lions of the Atlas have twice finished in fourth place (1986, 1988). In 1998 they made it to the quarter finals, losing 2-1 to South Africa in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Despite arriving in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as 'dark horses' for the 2012 tournament, they failed to progress from a group containing Gabon, Tunisa and Niger, finishing third, with a record of two losses and a victory over Niger.
However, they managed to reclaim some of their former glory after being crowned the 2012 Arab Nations Cup champions by defeating Libya on penalties in the final after overcoming the most successful team in the history of the tournament and record holder, Iraq, in the semi-finals.
They enjoyed mixed results leading up to the 2013 AFCON with former coach Eric Gerets sacked after a 2-0 loss away to Mozambique in the second qualifying round first leg before the new man at the helm Rachid Taoussi guided the Lions to a 4-0 win at home to secure qualification.
Morocco will host the next Nations Cup in 2015.
A significant number of the Morocco squad are overseas-based players, with their players spread across France, Germany, England and Spain. A significant amount do make their living in Morocco, with coach Taoussi putting out teams of locally based players for a number of matches.
Skipper Houcine Kharja, who now plays for Qatar side Al-Arabi Sports Club after many years in Italy, most recently with Fiorentina, will be pulling the strings in midfield. Udinese star Medhi Benatia is one of the most sought-after defenders, with the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham credited with interest in the 25-year-old. He will be a key men for Morocco in defence.