· Yassine Bounou discusses the African qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™
· Morocco keeper sets out his objectives with the Atlas Lions
· Morocco drawn with Sudan, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in Group I
When he moved to Sevilla, Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou accepted the fact that competition for the No.1 jersey would be intense and used it as a springboard for success.
After a spell in the reserves, Bounou has begun to make his mark in La Liga, showing exactly why he deserves to be a first choice for both club and country.
The Morocco mainstay is now hoping to excel on international duty in the second round of the African qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, with the Atlas Lions set to face Sudan on 2 September.
Though coach Vahid Halilhodzic and his coaching staff are confident of their chances in a Group I that also includes Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, the Sevilla custodian says they need to show respect and focus in all their matches.
“Matches are usually tough in Africa,” said Bounou in an interview with FIFA.com. “There’s not a bad national team out there and they’ve all improved a lot in the last few years, both tactically and technically. We’re very well aware that it won’t be easy, especially away from home. We have to be ready to do battle against every team, without exception.
“We can still get better as a squad. We can be solid at the back, and we’ve got good players in attack, defence and midfield,” he added, in reference to Morocco’s potential.
From Wydad to Sevilla
After starring in Morocco’s youth teams, Bounou won his first full cap in 2013. The call-ups continued, including trips to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and Russia 2018, though always as an understudy to first-choice keeper Mounir Al Mohammadi.
“That’s the coach’s decision,” said Bounou. “We have to play well for our clubs to earn a place in the national team. I’ve never turned down the chance to play for my country. In fact, I feel proud every time I represent Morocco.”
Having started out with Casablanca giants Al Wydad, the 30-year-old keeper took his career to another dimension in 2019, when he joined Sevilla on a permanent deal. Bounou had impressed there on an earlier loan spell, one of several he had in Spain.
“I always give it my all, with the same mindset,” said Bounou. “Every player faces decisive moments that can change the course of their careers, and that’s what happened with me. I’ve always been ready to do my best, and when I got the chance I showed what I can do. Hard work is the secret to success. I’m happy to be at a club where I can play against some big teams and win all the things I’ve won up to now, but I grew up with Wydad of Casablanca, a club that’ll always be in my heart. It’s a part of me and I had the most beautiful moments of my life there.”
The Moroccan keeper played an important part in Julen Lopetegui’s side’s UEFA Europa League triumph last season. Recalling that victorious campaign, Bounou said: “It was a high point in my career but it’s time to move on from it now. I’m still improving on a technical and tactical level and I’m determined to do my very best this season.”
On the trophy hunt
Bounou has faced a fair few obstacles in coming this far. Though the language of football is the same in every stadium, things are somewhat different away from the field of play. Like many African players who have made the move to Europe, he has found it hard to settle.
“It’s always tough for an African player when they arrive in Europe,” he explained. “When we came here, we tried to find things that were similar to where we come from and meet people who make us feel comfortable. I’ve been through some tough times, but they’ve made me stronger. We have to adapt to the European mentality and make a big effort to get on the same wavelength as the other players and achieve good results.”
Bounou will be joining up with Morocco at the end of this month, and will be looking to draw on his experiences at Russia 2018 and help his country reach the world finals for a sixth time.
“We performed well in Russia, but we lacked the necessary experience to get the results we needed,” he explained. “We’re hoping to draw on that now for the next few competitions.” Wrapping things up, the former Wydad man said: “My goal right now is to make it with Morocco to the World Cup in Qatar. And I also want to do well at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon [in January 2022] because it’s a special tournament for us.”