With the African Cup of Nations kicking off this week, NTOF will be looking at some of the most interesting African players to grace Scottish football. Next on the list is Hibs’ Moroccan marksman Abdessalam Benjelloun.
Not the most prolific goalscorer whilst in Edinburgh, ‘Benji’ won the hearts of the Hibs faithful and later became a cult hero for the Hibees.
After signing him from his hometown club, Maghreb Fez, fans began to speculate that a superstar was arriving in Leith given the complex documentation to clinch the signing of Benjelloun in March 2006.
Derby day delight
A month later, he became a major hit with the fans after scoring the winner in the Edinburgh derby against Hearts at Easter Road. The goal already had him held in high regard and so did his rather controversial celebration.
Having scored in front of the home fans, he ran the entire length of the park to celebrate in front of the visiting Hearts supporters. Ironic in that ‘Benji’ spared Zibi Malkowski’s blushes given the Jambos’ equaliser came from yet another goalkeeping error.
The Pole returned the favour by preventing him from reaching the Jambos’ following. Thus looking out for both his teammate and ensuring a major incident didn’t follow.
Benjelloun went down a Hibs hero
However, ‘Benji’ is arguably most remembered for his brace in the 2007 League Cup Final victory against Kilmarnock. He grabbed the second and fourth goal alongside a Rob Jones opener and a Steven Fletcher brace as Hibs smashed Killie 5-1.
The Hibees clinched their third League Cup and the first trophy since winning the very same competition in 1991-92, in which they beat Dunfermline 2-0 at Hampden thanks to goals from Tommy McIntyre and Keith Wright.
Edinburgh to Egypt
Benjelloun scored on his international debut for Morocco, a 4-1 win over Belgium in Brussels. He would go on to score five goals in 24 caps, including scoring in consecutive qualifiers for Morocco in their first two qualification matches for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Following his release by the Edinburgh outfit, he returned to his home continent after signing for Egyptian Premier League side Ismaily SC. He may not have hit the back of the net as often as he could’ve and should’ve but he remains a popular figure down Leith way.