This article is part of our World Cup feature focusing on African teams: Africa’s hope for a World Cup triumph
Key Players: Medhi Benatia, Younes Belhanda, Hakim Ziyech.
Coach: Hervé Renard.
In 1986, Morocco made history by being the first national team to win a group at the World Cup and also the first to reach the knockout stages. The North African team bowed out of the competition honorably against eventual winners West Germany. They came close to duplicating this feat at the 1998 World Cup in France but fell short due to Brazil’s defeat at the hands of Norway. Who knew at that time that Moroccan football fans would have to wait 20 years to see their team on the World stage again.
It was not for the lack of good players that Morocco was failing to qualify for the World Cup. The national team has many solid performers playing all over Europe. Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Medhi Benatia (Juventus), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) and Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray) are but a few names among the Moroccan contingent playing in top leagues. What they were missing was a coach who would get the best out of this group. Hervé Renard, the only coach to have won the African Nations Cup with two different countries (Zambia and Ivory Coast), is the key to this team.
Renard will hope the defensive discipline and grit he has instilled in this players can bring the best out of them in Russia. Compared to fellow African countries Egypt and Senegal, Morocco have a much tougher group to navigate. They can arguably triumph over Iran but Spain and Portugal will not be easy opponents. We can assume Spain will win this group with 9 points. Morocco will then need to dispatch Portugal to claim second place.
While Portugal is at best a second tier team among the European elites, they have a magician in their squad in Cristiano Ronaldo. Morocco will need to keep the five time Champions League winner and hope for a goal at the other end. Second place would most likely earn them a Round of 16 tie with Uruguay, where they can fancy their chances. If they make it to the quarter finals, France or Argentina will probably end their run in the World Cup.
Our prediction: Group stage exit.
Trivia: The Moroccan national team’s nickname is the “Lions of the Atlas”.
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