Morocco are in some exceptional form coming to Russia and could stage a surprise by ousting one of the teams from the established order of Group-B.
Morocco are one of the teams everyone will be keeping an eye on. They are expected to be one of the surprise packages of this World Cup considering their current run of form and what they bring to the table. Although Morocco are pitted against the likes of tournament favourites Spain and European champions Portugal, many still hold a belief in this team to perform.
Their qualification to Russia should be a sheer example of what to expect from Morocco for teams playing them in their group. Morocco had an excellent qualification campaign, where they lost no games during that time. This is a team that is wholly based out from the back and could frustrate some high profile teams with their strong defending skills.
Morocco drew their first two qualifying games, but soon picked up the momentum and finished unbeaten. In this process, they did achieve something more exceptional, as they did not concede even one goal during their entire campaign, especially considering their group opponents included the likes of Ivory Coast, Mali and Gabon.
Group & Fixtures
Morocco begin their Group-B campaign with a clash against Iran. This is one game they are expected to win but take nothing away from Iran as they too could surprise a few on the big stage. A win for Morocco would set up this group nicely, considering there would be a winner in the game between Spain and Portugal.
Morocco then meet Portugal, and a result against the European champions will do them a world of good and have a positive impact on their hopes to get into the next round. A defeat against Portugal and another one in their last group fixture against Spain would be catastrophic and indeed end their World Cup campaign.
Herve Renard has built an ultra-defensive squad since taking over as manager. Morocco might not have a team that could match up to some other teams and their attacking talents. But in defence, there are very few teams that have the quality this team has.
Goalkeepers: Munir Mohamedi (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)
Defenders: Medhi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille)
Midfielders: Mbark Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke)
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St. Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga)
Led from the back by Juventus central defender and by far the most recognised player in this Morocco side, Medhi Benatia. He will be ably supported by Nabil Dirar and Real Madrid full-back Achraf Hakimi; Morocco can hope to build on their defensive prowess to stop the best of teams.
Morocco’s attack might lack the cutting edge, but in Ajax forward Hakim Ziyech, they have an exciting player who could turn the tables for a team that focuses so much on their defensive game. Other players like Younes Belhanda and Nordin Amrabat will also be in focus at the World Cup, and every Morocco fan will be praying for this team to perform exceptionally in Russia.
Herve Renard is the only manager who has won the African Cup of Nations with two different national sides. He comes at the back of a lot of popular opinion in his favour, having successfully coached Ivory Coast in the past. He is a highly regarded name in African Football and will undoubtedly be looking to make his mark on an International stage such as the World Cup.
For Morocco to achieve any success, he would be essential. His tactics and strategies, as well as his right selection of players, have immensely helped Morocco achieve unprecedented success so far, but the World Cup is a different stage.
He has been the catalyst in transforming this side and helping them qualify for the World Cup, 20-years since they last did in his own home country of France. No matter what happens, if Morocco are to perform well at the World Cup, Renard sure is to come in focus of many European teams for his next job.
Potential Starting-XI (4-3-3) – Mohamedi; Dirar, Saiss, Benatia, Hakimi; Boussoufa, El Ahmadi, Belhanda; Ziyech, Boutaib, Amrabat
It’s a tough call to predict the outcome of Morocco especially looking at the teams present in Group-B. It is easy to write-off Iran already, as will be the case with Morocco for many. This team is of a different breed, and the way they have set themselves up as a defensive team will be vital if they are to progress.
Their fate lies in their own hands. Not that they are expected to beat either of Portugal or Spain, but if they could get a result against either or both of them as well as a win over Iran, Morocco have a World Cup campaign on their hands. Morocco will, however, face some tough opponents in the next rounds, in which they are expected to exit, if these teams are supposed to be Uruguay, France or Argentina, at different stages of the tournament.