In Focus: Towering En-Nesyri can help Morocco topple France
Youssef En-Nesyri has already written himself into Moroccan football folklore ahead of his country’s historic World Cup semi-final with France.
The Sevilla striker’s winner against Portugal in Qatar ensured the Atlas Lions became the first African nation ever to reach the competition's final four.
Having played his part in Morocco’s stunning victories over Belgium and Spain too, a meeting with the world champions promises to be the toughest test yet for En-Nesyri and his team-mates.
With Argentina waiting for tonight's winner in Sunday's showpiece, we turn the spotlight on En-Nesyri ahead of the semi-final showdown at Al Bayt Stadium.
En-Nesyri earned a reputation as one of Europe’s most promising strikers after bagging 24 goals in all competitions during his first full Sevilla season in 2020-21.
Physically imposing at 6ft 3in with pace to burn and the finishing ability to match, the 25-year-old is a dream No9 on paper.
That form saw him linked with a number of potential Premier League suitors, with West Ham even making a formal bid for the frontman in January 2021.
But he has seen his progress stutter in recent seasons, scoring only five times during an injury-hit 2021-22, before failing to find the net in 10 LaLiga appearances prior to the World Cup break this term.
That did not stop him arriving in Qatar as a big part of Morocco’s World Cup hopes, however.
With Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech the star names and Sofyan Amrabat at the heart of the engine room of Walid Regragui’s side, En-Nesyri is the man tasked with supplying the goals.
His international record of 17 strikes in 55 appearances is certainly not one to be sniffed at but there were still some questions over his selection after he lost his place in Sevilla's starting XI.
But Regragui has always been unwavering in his support for his No19, insisting his importance to the disciplined outfit extends much further than simply putting the ball in the net.
The Morocco coach said of his striker: "I believed in Youssef, and what he gives to the team on the field can only be understood by those who know football.
"He's like [Olivier] Giroud for France, he works so hard for the team. Sometimes [these types of strikers] are criticised. He's from Morocco, he trained in Morocco and he's an important player."
Regragui has stuck to his word in Qatar so far, starting En-Nesyri in all five games of their memorable campaign.
Unable to find the net in their opening stalemate with Croatia or the stunning 2-0 win over Belgium, the big man stepped up at a crucial moment in their third encounter.
The striker raced clear of Canada’s defence and fired home for what would prove to be the winner in a 2-1 success which sensationally secured top spot of a difficult-looking Group F for the Atlas Lions.
Though many of his team-mates have grabbed the headlines so far in Qatar, En-Nesyri has been the crucial focal point up front which has allowed their hard-working and disciplined approach to thrive.
And having sensationally emerged through the last 16 by beating 2010 champions Spain on penalties, En-Nesyri was the undisputed hero of their quarter-final face-off with another European powerhouse in Portugal.
The striker rose highest to nod home and put his country 1-0 up against Fernando Santos’ men at half-time — a lead the spirited Moroccans were once again able to hold on to.
Not only did it see Morocco become the first ever African team to reach a World Cup semi-final, the winner also made En-Nesyri his country’s all-time top scorer at the tournament with three showpiece strikes.
Regragui said of his marksman: "I have always believed in him, and that is a good thing. Even you journalists killed me when I said he was going to the World Cup.
"I think he is the best scorer for Morocco in the World Cup and he responded on the field and the answer is always on the field."
While reaching the final four is an incredible enough feat, the goal which got them there is physically pretty spectacular too.
It was revealed afterwards that En-Nesyri jumped an astonishing 9ft 1in in the air to head it home — leaving goalkeeper Diogo Costa and the Portuguese defence with no chance.
For all of Morocco’s exceptional displays in Qatar so far, their ability to punish teams by putting the ball in the back of the net has at times threatened to undo their good work.
But with En-Nesyri seemingly finding form at the perfect time, even holders France will not seem too big of an obstacle to leap over as they bid to become the first ever African World Cup finalists.