Morocco could not have made a better start to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, powering into a 3-0 lead in the first-half of their opening group match against fancied Croatia and going on to collect all three points.
Two of those goals came from Karim Achahbar, a striker who has a prolific record in France’s youth leagues but arrived in the United Arab Emirates with little fanfare. His stunning show in Fujairah has got him noticed, however, and the youngster is reveling in it all. “I’m fulfilling a dream,” he said after putting the Croatians to the sword.
We’ve got faith in ourselves. We hope to go a long way.
Born in the French city of Guingamp, Achahbar has spent his short but productive career scoring goals, playing as a centre-forward from a very early age and attracting the attention of En Avant Guingamp a little over a year ago with his finishing skills. “That was all I’ve ever wanted since I was a boy,” he said of the chance to play for the Ligue 1 side. “I was born there and my parents live close to the Stade du Roudorou too. Joining a professional club has made me so happy.”
Despite his natural talent and the quantity of goals he scored in the CFA 2, France’s amateur championship, Achahbar was by no means a standout performer in the Morocco line-up when he arrived in the UAE. But that all changed when he struck twice in 13 minutes against the Croatians, setting his side on their way to a valuable win and raising his profile considerably.
His two goals were virtual carbon copies of each other and revealed his ability to be in the right place at the right time, Achahbar working space for himself before converting pinpoint assists from his team-mate Omar Arjoune. “We played a great game,” said the two-goal hero. “We scored three goals in the first half, which obviously we didn’t really expect to do.”
Though mindful he has a long way to go, the Guingamp teenager can look forward to a bright future if his form for his country and his burgeoning club career are anything to go by. Yet whatever tomorrow holds, he has a very clear idea of his priorities: “I’m not going to rest on my laurels. I’ve got to keep on working if I want to progress and my goal is to play in the first division with Guingamp.”
Targeting success in the UAE, Achahbar has big plans in the immediate future too: “We’ve come here with a real desire to do well. This is the first time the U-17 team has played in the World Cup and though we know we’ll be up against some tough opponents, we’ve got faith in ourselves. We hope to go a long way.”
Reflecting on his brace against Croatia, he said: “I’d be lying if I told you that I thought I could score twice in such a short space of time in the first match, and against a team as well organised as Croatia. It was a great performance, not just by me but by the whole side. With everything that’s happened, I’m living a dream.”
Morocco’s next outing is against Uzbekistan in Fujairah on Monday. The Uzbeks are on a high themselves after downing Panama and are sure to provide the North Africans with stiff opposition. Achahbar knows that very well but, as he has already shown, he knows where the goal is too. Looking ahead to the meeting with the White Wolves, he said: “They’ll be another difficult side. I hope we can play at the same level and with the same motivation. It’ll be great if I score, but the main thing is to win.”