Munir, Bounou and the fight for Morocco’s No1 jersey

  • Munir and Bounou are the contenders for the Morocco No1 jersey
  • Munir excelled in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying
  • Bounou has been in superb form with club Girona

“Every great team needs a great goalkeeper,” or so the saying goes. Morocco proved the point in producing their best ever FIFA World Cup™ performance at Mexico 1986, when they reached the Round of 16 thanks in no small part to Badou Zaki, their man between the posts who became a Moroccan legend in the process and went on to win the African Golden Ball award that year.

Now, 32 years on and with the Atlas Lions about to make their fifth world finals appearance, they are looking for a worthy successor to the great Zaki. The two custodians hoping to follow in his footsteps and shine on the biggest stage of all are Munir Mohmandi and Yassine Bounou.

The lowdown on Munir Mohand Mohamedi

Born: 10 May 1989
Height: 6’4 (1.92m)
Club: CD Numancia (Spanish second division)
Caps: 26

Morocco’s French coach Herve Renard has a hard job in choosing between the two, so similar are they. Tall in stature, at 6’4 (1.92m) and 6’5 (1.95m) respectively, Munir and Bounou are fine all-rounders who use their height and size to good effect in commanding the box.

The similarities do not end there. Both were born outside Morocco – in Spain (Melilla) in Munir’s case, and in Canada (Montreal) in Bounou’s – and both have been playing in Spain since the 2016/17 season, the former with second division side Numancia and the latter with Girona, who earned promotion to the top flight at the end of that season.

“With all due respect to the keepers I played with, Munir and Bounou are to my mind the best keepers I’ve come across. I would have loved to have had two keepers of their quality by my side during my playing days”

Mustapha Hadji

The problem for Renard is he can only select one, and up to now it is Munir who has been his first choice. Called up for the first time in 2014 by Zaki, the then national team coach, Munir broke his way into the starting line-up gradually, finally cementing his status after Renard took over and starting all Morocco’s matches in the third and final round of the African qualifiers for Russia 2018.

Munir’s performances speak for themselves. Showing all his agility and speed of reaction, he was the only goalkeeper in that third round to go all six matches without conceding a goal, a statistic made all the more impressive by the fact that Morocco’s group contained Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon, Wilfried Bony’s Côte d’Ivoire and Cheick Diabate’s Mali.

The lowdown on Yassine Bounou

Born: 5 April 1991
Height: 6’5 (1.95m)
Club: Girona FC
Caps: 10

Yet while Munir has retained the confidence of Renard, he has fallen out of favour with Numancia coach Jagoba Arrasate, with the keeper’s domestic appearances in the 2017/18 season mainly coming in the Copa del Rey, against Real Oviedo, Sporting Gijon and in both legs of the ties against Malaga and Real Madrid.

“Obviously it frustrating not to be playing, especially when you can see the World Cup coming up,” Munir told the Spanish media recently. “It’s a tough time for me emotionally. But these things can happen when you’re a player and you just have to deal with them.”

In the meantime, Bounou has impressed in La Liga since making the Girona jersey his. His six clean-sheets this season have, in the eyes of many, gone a long way to making the newcomers one of the revelations of the season in Spain. He will need to keep that form going, however, if he is to change the pecking order in the national team and make the Morocco goalkeeping slot his own.