World Cup: Sofiane Boufal, Walid Azaro shock omissions in Morocco squad

The surprise exclusion of Southampton midfielder Sofiane Boufal and on-fire Al-Ahly forward Walid Azaro has headlined the Morocco World Cup squad

Coach Herve Renard has named his 23-man squad with the pair conspicuous by their absence.

Juventus defender Medhi Benatia is the most high-profile player in the squad that gets into camp in Rabat next Thursday. Russia 2018 is when Morocco return to the global football showpiece for the first time in 20 years.

Boufal’s bust-up with Southampton manager Mark Hughes could have cost him a plane seat to Russia after he was banished from the first team and missed the last five Premier League games.

A dressing-room clash between the two led to an acrimonious relationship after the France-born 24-year-old midfielder refused to warm-up as a substitute during the 3-2 Premier League defeat to Chelsea in mid-April.

Also missing from Renard’s squad is Egyptian Premier League top-scorer Azaro who netted 22 goals for champions Al-Ahly in all competitions.

Azaro might have thought he had done enough to impress Renard after being included in the international friendlies in March but will not be in Russia.

Renard however rewarded in-form RSB-Berkane striker Ayoub El-Kaabi whose terrific form has yielded 10 goals in eight games for Morocco this year alone.

In Russia, Morocco will battle against reigning European champions Portugal, Spain and Iran in Group B.

They have lined-up friendly matches against Ukraine, Slovakia and Estonia before the tournament.

Morocco squad:

Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (CD Numancia/ESP), Yassine Bounou (Girona/ESP), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (IRT/MAR) Defenders: Medhi Benatia (Juventus/ITA), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton/ENG), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir/TUR), Badr Benoun (RCA/MAR), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce/TUR), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid/ESP), Hamza Mendyl (Lille/FRA)

Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira/UAE), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord/ NED), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen/FRA), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord/NED), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray/TUR), Faycal Fajr (Getafe/ESP), Amine Harit (Schalke 04/ GER), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes/ESP)

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Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor/TUR), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli/GER), Ayoub El Kaabi (RSB/MAR), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege/BEL), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax Amsterdam/NED).

On standby:

Oualid El Hajjam (Amiens/FRA), Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax Amsterdam /NED), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga/ESP)