World Cup 2018: Group B Team Profile – MoroccoJune 10, 2018
Nickname: Lions of the Atlas
Best World Cup: Round of 16, 1986
Last World Cup: Group Stage, 1998
Odds to win: 500/1 (Bet365)
How did they reach the World Cup?
Moroccan national team will be playing in their fifth World Cup when they make the near 5000-mile trip to Russia for the 21st instalment of football’s greatest trophy.
As the 22nd highest ranked African side in the FIFA World Rankings, Morocco earned a bye through to the second round of the CAF qualifying stage, where they narrowly defeated Equatorial Guinea 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.
In the third round, Morocco were drawn into a tough group, alongside Ivory Coast, Mali and Gabon. At home, Morocco dominated Gabon and Mali, 3-0 and 6-0 respectively. A 0-0 draw to Ivory Coast concluded their home ties.
Morocco’s impressive campaign continued away from home. A 2-0 win against Ivory Coast and two goalless draws ensured they finished the group unbeaten, having not conceded a single goal.
Currently in charge of the Atlas Lions is former French defender, Herve Renard. While he has little experience in managing in club football, the 49-year-old has proved a success on the international stage.
His first national side was minnows Zambia, taking charge of the East African team in 2008, guiding them to the quarter-finals of the 2010 African Cup of Nations – the first time in 14 years for The Copper Bullets.
After a brief spell away, Renard returned to managerial duties with Zambia, guiding them to their first African Cup of Nations title in 2012. The Frenchman became the first manager to win the continental trophy with two different countries, lifting it with Ivory Coast, three years after his first success.
Following further disappointments at club level, he once again returned to manage internationally, this time with Morocco in 2016.
French-born centre back Mehdi Benatia is the current Morocco captain, and with his vast experience in Europe’s top leagues, he will be crucial in Russia.
Benatia started his professional career at Marseille, but has spent the majority in Italy’s Serie A,featuring for Udinese, Roma and Juventus.
Squashed between the latter two was a spell at Bayern Munich in Germany, but a lack of appearances saw the 31-year-old return to Italy. In total, the defender has won seven club trophies.
Benatia made his international debut in 2008, making 53 appearances for Morocco since and named the country’s best player in 2013 and 2014, taking over captaincy duties last year.
Of Dutch descent, attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech has impressed in recent years, finishing as the Eredivisie’s top assist provider in the last two seasons.
The 25-year-old has worked his way through the Dutch first division, starting out at Heerenveen, before moves to FC Twente and Ajax, helping the latter to reach the Europa League final in 2017. Now, Ziyech is attracting interest from Premier League duo Liverpool and Everton.
For Morocco, he has enjoyed a flying start, netting eight times in 14 caps since making his debut against Ivory Coast in October 2015.
Chances of Spain playing Morocco
Morocco will face Spain in their final group match on the 25th June at the Kaliningrad Stadium. It could prove vital for the African nation, who face a difficult challenge to progress with Euro 2016 winners Portugal also in Group B.
While Spain are favourites to top the group, should Morocco pull off a miracle and get through to the knockout stages, the next time the pair could potentially meet would not be until either the final or third-place play-off.
World Cup Prediction
Miracles do happen. But at 500/1, their first World Cup appearance in 20 years and a difficult group with two European heavyweights, it will be a near-impossible task for Morocco to make the knockout rounds.
While they will be expected to beat Iran, Spain and Portugal will be too hot to handle, particularly with the latter’s captain and five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, heading into the tournament in good form.
World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Munir Mohamedi, Yassine Bounou, Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti.
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Manuel Da Costa, Hamza Mendyl, Achraf Hakimi, Nabil Dirar.
Midfielders: Younes Belhanda, Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Sofyan Amrabat, Youssef Ait Bennasser, Amine Harit, Faycal Fajr, Mehdi Carcela.
Forwards: Nordin Amrabat, Hakim Ziyech, Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi, Youssef En-Nesyri.