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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Morocco boss names Hakimi, Alexander-Arnold as world’s best right-backs

01:40 WAT 26/01/2022
Achraf Hakimi Morocco 2022
Vahid Halilhodzic believes only one player can touch the Paris Saint-Germain full-back in the world today

Morocco coach Vahid Hailhodzic believes that Atlas Lions star Achraf Hakimi is one of the best two right-backs in the world, with only Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold able to rival him for the title of the best in their position.

Hakimi is emerging as one of the standout talents at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, having netted a sensational free kick from 35 yards to down Malawi in Morocco’s Round of 16 triumph on Tuesday.

The goal came in the aftermath of a near-identical set piece strike from the wideman in the North Africans’ 2-2 group-stage draw with Gabon, prompting Halilhodzic to celebrate the impact of the Paris Saint-Germain full-back.

“You can see this boy is one of the best talents, and one of the best players in the world in his position,” Halilhodzic told GOAL. “Him and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the two best full-backs in the world.

“The goals he scored last time, and this evening, are fantastic, and you don’t always see that kind of thing.

“Let’s congratulate him for this, and for putting his talents at the availability of the team—not everyone does this.”

The full-back started the Nations Cup slowly with an ineffective showing in the Lions’ opener against Ghana, and struggled to impose himself during a frustrating first-half against the Comoros in Morocco’s second game before Halilhodzic intervened.

“We have quite a particular relationship, and I talk to him a lot—after the first half against Comoros, I wasn’t happy, and I persecuted him at half time.

“In the second half, it was world class Hakimi, and he’s continued like that, only getting better for us.”

Hakimi’s strike against Gabon secured a 2-2 draw and ensured Morocco topped Group C ahead of the Panthers, setting up Tuesday’s Last 16 victory over Malawi — where goals from Youssef En-Nesyri and Hakimi cancelled out Gabadinho Mhango’s opener.

Halilhodzic has also lauded the full-back’s leadership qualities, and increasing desire to take the initiative for the North Africans and pull them out of sticky situations in their last two matches.

“He was criticised by Morocco supporters who wanted him to lead more, so I had many talks with him, asking him to take responsibility,” the Bosnian coach concluded. “He’s a kid of 22 but he was enormous room for growth, so much potential.

“He’s an important boy now, one of the leaders, and once again, it was our phenomenal friend Achraf who’s scored a magnificent goal and showed his exceptional talent.”

Morocco now progress to a Yaounde quarter-final against with Egypt or Ivory Coast, who meet in Douala on Wednesday in the final Last 16 clash.