World Cup Preview: Morocco (Group B)

MarocDossier

One of three North African sides at the tournament, Morocco are arguably the strongest – but will their apparent “Group of Death” cut their time in Russia short?

A producer of strong club sides in continental competition, Morocco comes into this tournament with a recent trophy win – the African Championship of Nations, or CHAN.

Hosted in Morocco at the beginning of the year, Africa’s second major international tournament only allows countries to field domestically based players.

Only two players a part of that winning squad have made it to the “A” team – mainly because this Moroccan side features a lot of players born outside of Africa.

17 out of 23 squad members were born in Europe, which is in stark contrast to the last time the Atlas Lions qualified for a World Cup – only two players that were part of the France ’98 squad were born outside of Morocco.

Morocco will not be the first African side to benefit from European produced players – North African neighbours Algeria utilised French Youth System products to their advantage at the 2014 World Cup.

However, whilst other African nations Senegal and Tunisia have called in for European reinforcements, no team will bring as many players that qualify due to parents or grandparents.

But this is not a divided team – instead, it is a regimented, well drilled side that can grind out results when needed.

Group Stage Predictions 

Just like Egypt in Group A, a lot will depend on results going Morocco’s way.

Spain’s sudden manager change may have a big impact on results – but Morocco should focus on themselves rather than their rivals.

A strong start against the weakest team in the group – Iran – will help the Atlas Lions shape their own destiny, but it is possible that two draws against the two European sides could steer them out of the group – depending on results elsewhere.

The Lions of Atlas will face the current European champions in their second match. Portugal are not a dominating force in terms of quality of results – but they have a remarkable knack of grinding out results no matter the opposition.

Whist Morocco only conceded one goal in qualifying, keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet is a different challenge.

Last up is Spain – who should be over the last of their manager troubles. If results have gone Morocco’s way, their confidence will be sky-high – but their European neighbours will be their toughest test.

Knockout Stages

If the Atlas Lions do squeeze out of this group, it is likely it will be in second place – meaning it is likely they will face another strong side in Uruguay. For this reason, we don’t see Morocco going much further than the Round of 16 – but anything is possible, and this Morocco team can sit back and soak up pressure for fun.

The Squad

Unlike rivals Egypt, there is no out-and-out Moroccan star – no attacking maestro who can score goals from nothing. However, talent is dispersed equally around the side – captain Mehdi Benatia is one of the world’s best defenders and has experience in big matches with Bayern Munich and Juventus.

Benatia will be the core of a defence that is mean – they conceded no goals in the final stage of their qualifying campaign. English football fans will recognise Sais, whilst European fans will be keeping an eye on the exciting youngsters Achraf Hakimi and Hamza Mendyl, who are likely to start on the defensive flanks.

Hakim Ziyech is the creative spark in the midfield but he won’t solely be tasked with generating chances – Younes Belhanda is equally adept at stringing attacks together.

There are fewer recognizable threats up-top, but that’s because most of the strikers Morocco have brought to the World Cup have worked their way up from the bottom – amateur footballers turning childhood dreams into reality.

Expect a hard-working side prepared to grind out results – not pretty on the eye at times, but effective. Cagey matches might be a consequence, but don’t write Morocco off just yet.

Formation:  4-2-3-1

Manager: Hérve Renard

Image result for Hérve Renard

The Argentine has instilled his defensive methods in his team – despite not speaking any Arabic. Relying on coaches to translate and relay his points, it is clearly working – in his first 35 games, Egypt only conceded 20 goals.

A journeyman in European club football, this will be Cúper’s first stab at the World Cup finals.

Likely Line-up:

Mohamedi, Hakimi, Benatia, Saiss, Boussoufa, Ziyech, El Ahmadi, Harit, Nordin Amrabat, El Kaabi, Belhanda.

Star Man: – Mehdi Benatia

Experience in some of Europe’s biggest sides means Morocco’s captain won’t be fazed coming up against Ronaldo – unless he has flashbacks to his over-head kick in the Champions League.

He is the organiser of a very organised side, but he can be a threat at set-pieces.

One to Watch: – Hakim Ziyech

Image result for Ziyech

Whilst not a completely unknown quality; Ziyech has slipped under the radar despite playing for Ajax. If he produces, the bigger sides will be sniffing around.

Similar teams in history: – Iceland, 2016 Euros.

Image result for Iceland euros

A resilient defence with a little bit of creativity makes the two a perfect pair. Morocco would be very happy if they matched Iceland’s Quarter final run.

No. Pos. Player Date of birth (age) Caps Goals Club
1 GK Yassine Bounou 5 April 1991 (aged 27) 11 0 Spain Girona
2 DF Achraf Hakimi 4 November 1998 (aged 19) 10 1 Spain Real Madrid
3 DF Hamza Mendyl 21 October 1997 (aged 20) 13 0 France Lille
4 DF Manuel da Costa 6 May 1986 (aged 32) 28 1 Turkey İstanbul Başakşehir
5 DF Medhi Benatia (captain) 17 April 1987 (aged 31) 57 2 Italy Juventus
6 DF Romain Saïss 26 March 1990 (aged 28) 24 1 England Wolverhampton Wanderers
7 MF Hakim Ziyech 19 March 1993 (aged 25) 18 9 Netherlands Ajax
8 MF Karim El Ahmadi 27 January 1985 (aged 33) 51 1 Netherlands Feyenoord
9 FW Ayoub El Kaabi 25 June 1993 (aged 24) 10 11 Morocco RS Berkane
10 MF Younès Belhanda 25 February 1990 (aged 28) 47 5 Turkey Galatasaray
11 MF Fayçal Fajr 1 August 1988 (aged 29) 23 2 Spain Getafe
12 GK Munir Mohamedi 10 May 1989 (aged 29) 27 0 Spain Numancia
13 FW Khalid Boutaïb 24 April 1987 (aged 31) 18 7 Turkey Yeni Malatyaspor
14 MF Mbark Boussoufa 15 August 1984 (aged 33) 59 7 United Arab Emirates Al-Jazira
15 MF Youssef Aït Bennasser 7 July 1996 (aged 21) 14 0 France Caen
16 MF Nordin Amrabat 31 March 1987 (aged 31) 44 4 Spain Leganés
17 DF Nabil Dirar 25 February 1986 (aged 32) 34 3 Turkey Fenerbahçe
18 MF Amine Harit 18 June 1997 (aged 20) 6 0 Germany Schalke 04
19 FW Youssef En-Nesyri 1 June 1997 (aged 21) 16 2 Spain Málaga
20 FW Aziz Bouhaddouz 30 March 1987 (aged 31) 15 3 Germany FC St. Pauli
21 MF Sofyan Amrabat 21 August 1996 (aged 21) 6 0 Netherlands Feyenoord
22 GK Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti 5 April 1996 (aged 22) 2 0 Morocco IR Tanger
23 MF Mehdi Carcela 1 July 1989 (aged 28) 20 1 Belgium Standard Liège
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