El Kaabi named in Morocco squad for World Cup friendlies

Maroccan footballer Ayoub El Kaabi impressed during the CHAN tournament
Ayoub El Kaabi scored a record nice goals during the CHAN tournament

Ayoub El Kaabi, the top scorer at the recent African Nations Championship (CHAN), has been included in Morocco's 28-man squad for this month's World Cup warm-up matches against Serbia and Uzbekistan.

El Kaabi, a Moroccan second-tier footballer last season, scored a record nine goals as hosts Morocco won the CHAN for home-based players last month.

The 24-year-old, uncapped at full international level, plays for Renaissance Berkane.

He is one of three home-based players named in coach Herve Renard's squad, which will be boosted by 25 overseas players.

Morocco will play Serbia in Turin, Italy on 23 March and then Uzbekistan at home in Casablanca four days later.

Renard, though, has overlooked two stars from the successful CHAN squad, Italy-based defender Jawad El Yamiq and Wydad Casablanca winger Ismail Haddad.

Other notable omissions include Achraf Bencharki, Oussama Tannane and Youssef El-Arabi, while former Dutch youth internationals and Utrecht duo of Yassin Ayoub and Zakaria Labyad have been recalled.

Apart from the new faces, Renard has largely kept faith with the Atlas Lions squad that secured the 2018 World Cup ticket.

Star sextet of captain Mehdi Benatia, Younes Belhanda, Nabil Dirar, Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal and Khalid Boutaib is included.

The country's football authority, FRMF, is still working on more warm-up fixtures for the 1976 African champions, before their opening Group B clash at the tournament in Russia on 15 June against Iran in St Petersburg.

Morocco and Iran have played each other twice in the past with the Atlas Lions winning both matches including one on penalties.

They face reigning European champions Portugal on 20 June in Moscow before a final group clash against 2010 World Cup winners Spain in Kaliningrad on 25 June.

The North Africans have previously topped a group involving Portugal, when they finished above England and Poland in the 1986 World Cup.

Morocco, who under Frenchman Herve Renard completed their final qualifying campaign with maximum points and no goals conceded, last appeared in a World Cup in 1998 in France.

Morocco's 28-man squad:

Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia, Spain), Yassine Bounou (Girona, Spain), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus, Italy), Ghanem Saiss (Wolves, England), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid, Spain), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Badr Banoun (Raja Casablanca), Manuel da Costa (Başakşehir, Turkey), Oualid El Hajjam (Amiens, France), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France)

Midfielders: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax, Netherlands), Fayçal Fajr (Getafe, Spain), Soufiane Boufal (Southampton, England), Nordin Amrabat (Leganés, Spain), Karim El Ahmadi and Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray, Turkey), Mbark Boussoufa (Al Jazeera, UAE), Amine Harit (Schalke, Germany), Zakaria Labyad and Yassin Ayoub (Utrecht, Netherlands), Youssef Aït-Bennasser (Caen, France)

Forwards: Khalid Boutaïb (Malatyaspor, Turkey), Yacine Bammou (Nantes, France), Walid Azaro (Al Ahly, Egypt), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli, Germany)