Brahim Diaz, Achraf Hakimi and 10 players who chose Mena national teams over Europe

Real Madrid forward is set to commit his international career to Morocco instead of Spain

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The Morocco national football team has received a major boost after reports emerged Monday that Real Madrid forward Brahim Diaz has opted to represent the Atlas Lions instead of Spain.

Diaz, 24, had been expected to commit to Spain, the nation of his birth and for whom he has represented throughout various youth team levels from Under-17 to Under-21. The playmaker has even made one appearance for Spain's senior side, earning his sole cap in a friendly against Lithuania in 2021.

The former Manchester City player initially announced in January his plan to switch allegiance to Morocco but he was not called up to the Africa Cup of Nations squad due to a pre-existing agreement. However, in the weeks since, it was reported Diaz had had a change of heart, and after calls among Spanish fans and in the media for him to play for La Rojas, was expected to commit to the European giants.

Now Diaz has appeared to U-turn again and will reportedly become a Morocco international imminently after a few administrative details were resolved. Fifa rules state that players can change their international allegiance providing that they have made three or fewer senior appearances for one nation before the age of 21 and have not played for that team for at least three years.

Diaz, who has a Spanish mother and a Moroccan father, passes the criteria, and his switch to Morocco brings a five-year campaign by Moroccan football authorities to a successful conclusion.

Diaz is just the latest in a long line of high-profile footballers who have chosen to pursue international careers with national teams from the Mena region instead of taking up the option to represent a European country.

Here are some of the best active players who have previously made similar switches to Diaz.

Achraf Hakimi (Morocco / Spain)

Starting with one of the best players in the world, Hakimi was born in Madrid and came through the Spanish youth system. He went on to break into the Real Madrid senior squad but spent the second of his three years at the club on loan at Borussia Dortmund. Hakimi, now at Paris Saint-Germain and arguably the best right-back in the world, committed to Morocco early, making his international debut for the Atlas Lions in 2016 when he was still part of Real Madrid's Castilla reserve squad.

While Hakimi was eligible to play for Spain, both of his parents are Moroccan and he has always stated that representing Morocco was his first and only choice. He was a star for the Atlas Lions during their historic run to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Hakim Ziyech (Morocco / Netherlands)

Another hero of Morocco's 2022 World Cup campaign, Ziyech was born in Dronten, Netherlands and spent the majority of his career to date in Dutch football. Both his parents are Moroccan having emigrated to the Netherlands in the 1960s. Ziyech came through the Heerenveen academy and appeared for the senior team, before moves to Twente and Amsterdam giants Ajax.

The Chelsea winger, currently on loan at Galatasaray, represented the Netherlands at under-20 and under-21 level, and was called up to the senior squad for friendlies in May 2015. However, he decided to represent Morocco and made his debut in October 2015. Ziyech's international career has been somewhat turbulent; he clashed with former manager Vahid Halilhodzic and announced his retirement in 2022, but was brought back into the setup by current coach Walid Regragui ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Chadi Riad (Morocco / Spain)

One of the most exciting young defenders in European football, Riad was born in Palma and has spent his entire career in Spanish football, save for one year as a youth player in the United States. The 20-year-old Barcelona player is on loan at Real Betis, and is expected to stake a claim in the Barca squad next season.

Riad, whose parents are Moroccan, has represented Morocco throughout youth level, from under-17 to under-23, helping the country win the U23 Africa Cup of Nations title in January last year. While he was eligible to play for Spain, Riad made his senior Morocco debut in January and is tipped for a bright future at both club and international level.

Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco / Netherlands)

One of the players of the tournament at the 2022 World Cup, Amrabat was eligible to represent the Netherlands due to being born in the country and spending his early career in Dutch football. The midfielder, currently on loan at Manchester United from Fiorentina, represented the Netherlands at under-15 level but switched to Morocco at under-17 and has been in the setup ever since.

Amrabat, whos parents are Moroccan, made his Morocco debut in 2017 when he was still a Feyenoord player, and he has gone on to play for the Atlas Lions 55 times. His performances in Qatar saw a surge in interest for his services from some of Europe's biggest clubs, and he joined United last summer on loan.

Amine Adli (Morocco / France)

Part of Bayer Leverkusen's stunning Bundesliga campaign, Adli was born in Beziers, France and came through the Toulouse youth academy, making him eligible to represent France.

However, after turning out for France at under-18 and under-21 level, the winger committed his international career to Morocco, the nation of his parents, and he made his senior debut last year.

Rayan Ait-Nouri (Algeria / France)

Ait-Nouri is enjoying the best season of his career at Wolves, and the full-back was eligible to represent France; he was born in Montreuil and came through the Angers ranks. The 22-year-old played for France's under-18 and under-21 teams, but switched to represent Algeria at senior level and made his debut in March 2023.

Ait-Nouri, who has been a key player for Wolves since joining the Premier League club initially on loan in 2020, has made five appearances for Algeria.

Houssem Aouar (Algeria / France)

Aouar had been earmarked for a bright future for France when he made his debut in October 2020 as a 22-year-old. A star for boyhood club Lyon, whom he helped reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2020, the midfielder decided to shun his country of birth to instead represent his parent's country, Algeria.

“It represents a lot to me. In all honesty, after choosing to play for France I regretted it and then I felt for me personally I hadn’t made the best choice," Aouar said in an interview with the Algerian Football Federation after he committed to the team last year.

Ismael Bennacer (Algeria / France)

One player who was eligible to play for three national teams – and one all three would be happy to have represent them. Bennacer has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Serie A, playing a key role in AC Milan's scudetto triumph last season in 2022.

Bennacer, who was born in France to a Moroccan father and an Algerian mother, represented Les Bleus at youth level but was convinced by the Algerian Football Federation to commit his international career to Algeria. The 26-year-old midfielder made his Algeria debut in 2016 and helped the team win the 2019 Afcon title.

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria / France)

Like international teammate Bennacer, Mahrez was also eligible for France and Morocco, before he committed to Algeria. Born in Sarcelles, in the northern suburbs of Paris, the winger spent the first five years of his senior career in France before moving to Leicester City, whom he helped win their improbable Premier League title in 2016.

Mahrez, whose mother is of Algerian and Moroccan descent and whose father was Algerian, was something of a late bloomer and by the time France may have been interested in his services, he was already an established player for Algeria. The Al Ahli star, who spent five trophy-filled years at Manchester City, was a star in Algeria's 2019 Afcon triumph.

Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia / France)

Talked about as a future star for Manchester United, Mejbri was born in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris and represented France at under-16 and under-17 level. However, both of his parents are Tunisian and the midfielder decided to commit his international career to Tunisia, making his debut in June 2021.

Currently on loan at Sevilla, the 21-year-old Mejbri was selected for the Tunisia squad for the 2022 World Cup but opted out of squad selection for the delayed 2023 Afcon to secure his club future. He is expected to be a cornerstone of the team for the next generation.

Updated: March 11, 2024, 11:48 AM