We continue with our “Team Talks” for the FIFA World Cup 2018. In this second part of Group B team talks, we talk about North African powerhouse Morocco.
Team : MOROCCO
Coach: Herve Renard
Captain: Medhi Benatia
Nickname(s): Atlas Lions
Last Qualified in: 1998
Result in 2014: Did not qualify
Qualified as: CAF Third Round Group C Winners (10 October 2017)
Previous World Cup Appearances: (4 Times) 1970, 1986, 1994, 1998.
Best World Cup Finals Result: Round of 16 in 1986.
Mounir El Kajoui, Yassine Bounou, Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti, Mehdi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Manuel Da Costa, Badr Benoun, Nabil Dirar, Achraf Hakimi, Hamza Mendyl; M’bark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Youssef Ait Bennasser, Sofyan Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, Faycal Fajr, Amine Harit; Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi, Nordin Amrabat, Mehdi Carcela, Hakim Ziyech.
1) Medhi Benatia:
The Juventus defender will lead the North-West Africans from the back, as well as on the field. Considered one of the the best in the world in his position, he is surely Morocco’s most well known and influential player on the pitch. The 31-year old will surely look to recreate this season’s club form, when he played vital roles in The Old Lady’s Serie A and Coppa Italia triumph.
2) Mbark Boussofa:
The Al Jazira midfielder is Morocco’s most capped player in the current squad with 56 appearances to his name. Benatia’s deputy on the pitch, the 33-year old will have a huge role to play in Morocco’s midfield battle in Russia.
3) Hakim Ziyech:
The 25-year old attacking midfielder represented Holland in U-19, U-20 and U-21 levels before opting to represent his country of origin. The Ajax midfield superstar will be looked upon by Herve Renard to provide the much needed creativity at the attacking third. Do watch out for his brilliant free-kicks as well.
4) Ayoub El Kaabi:
The 24-year old forward only made his national team debut earlier this year. But the former Casablanca man has already grabbed the headlines by scoring 10 goals in 8 games, with a goal per game ratio of 1.25. Although not a member of the original squad that qualified for the big stage after 20 years, he is surely to be the main target man upfront for Morocco in Russua.
Morocco have been in pretty decent form in recent times. They have won 6 of their last 9 international matches, while losing twice and a solitary draw. They are unbeaten since their AFCON 2019 qualifier loss to Cameroon in June 2017. They won their last 2 matches against Serbia and Uzbekistan in March friendlies.
Morocco have been drawn in Group B alongside Spain, Iran and Portugal. They will play Iran in their opening match on 15th of June, followed by Portugal and Spain on 20th and 25th June respectively.
Drawn in a very tough group with 2010 Champions Spain, European Champions Portugal and Asian powerhouses Iran, Morocco will need to produce some extraordinary performances like they did in 1986 and cause a few upsets to progress into the knockout-round.
Morocco were the first African team in history to salvage a World Cup point, when they drew against Bulgaria in Mexico, in their last group league match of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. They also became the first ever African team to progress beyond the group stages of a World Cup (that too unbeaten), when they topped their group 16 years later in Mexico (again!); this time from a very tough group containing England, Portugal and Poland.
Photo by JoF