2018/2019 was the European season when the world stood up to take notice of Ajax's elegant left-footer Hakim Ziyech, and now he's got a vision of continental glory with Morocco.
Futaa's Indispensables series looks at seven key men who their countries simply cannot do without if they are to taste glory in Egypt this year.
Ziyech in a nutshell 🥜
The elegant left-footed playmaker forced his way to the top of many shopping lists around Europe last season with a standout campaign for Ajax Amsterdam.
16 goals & 13 assists in the Eredivisie last season, for a man who nominally operates as a playmaker, is an astounding return. He was also instrumental in Ajax's fairytale push to the Champions League semifinal. Ziyech is comfortable filling the creative role behind a striker or operating as a wide forward with his rangy running style. He has a killer final ball, a ferocious shot and incredible awareness of those around him, allowing Ziyech to pick out intelligent passes and create chances for strikers.
His AFCON so far 🌍
Ziyech's main contribution to a flawless group campaign in Egypt was a vicious free-kick that prompted Namibia defender Itamunua Keimuine to divert into his own net and earned Morocco a 1-0 victory in their opening match.
Other than that, it's been a quiet tournament for the superstar, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah stealing more of the headlines so far. The sweltering heat may have played a role, as well as the wholly-defensive backs-to-the-wall approaches of South Africa and Namibia which frustrated Morocco's Atlas Lions.
That being said, Ziyech is well capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat at any point.
Supporting cast 🇲🇦
Real Madrid youngster Achraf Hakimi has recently enjoyed a loan spell with Borussia Dortmund, contributing to four assists and two goals from left fullback. Naturally, a right back, his switch to the opposite flank highlights the natural talent and versatility that is already a massive strength of the 20-year-old.
Youssef En-Nesyri, the emerging Leganes striker in LaLiga, is still only 22. He's got an AFCON goal to his name this year and also got on the score sheet in his only appearance at the World Cup in 2018. Morocco coach Hervé Renard has great faith in him, and for good reason.
Wildcard worth watching 🃏
Nordin Amrabat has never been a predictable or reliable player, but he's well capable of producing magical moments out of nothing. The attacking midfielder is well-travelled, having had club stints in Turkey, Spain, England (with Watford), Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands. He'll likely operate from the left flank, and always brings his bag of tricks to a match.
Next match 🗓
Morocco‘s Atlas Lions take on Benin in the round of 16 tonight and Hakim Ziyech will be the key to Morocco’s creative efforts. He’ll be determined to appear in the AFCON quarterfinals next week.