24 May 2018

Morocco: Keep an Eye On the Atlas Lions of Morocco

Photo: CAF
Morocco celebrate in the CHAN 2018 final.

Morocco returns with a squad filled with exciting young talents and in Herve Renard a coach who is adept at organising a unit defensively, indeed there was no better illustration of that than the Atlas Lions qualifying for Russia as the only team not to concede a goal. Their goals scored column, with 11 goals in six games, was given a deceptive shine by a freak 6-0 win over Mali, but still, they are good enough going forward to cause any of their Group B opponents problems.

How they play

Morocco traditionally played its football the north African way; patient in the build-up and quick on the counter. Herve Renard has only sharpened these qualities while making the team much more solid defensively than it had been in the recent past.

Strengths

The Atlas Lions are blessed with a new generation of exciting midfielders; pick from Younes Belhanda, Hakim Ziyech or Amine Harit, to match legends from the past such as Moustapha Hadji. Morocco doesn't give up goals easily either.

Weaknesses

Morocco has rarely had a goalkeeper to be classified as exceptional, and, three goalless draws out of six World Cup qualifiers suggest coach Renard can play too safe at times.

Star man

Medhi Benatia, the Juventus defender is the captain, leader and one of the more experienced players in this Moroccan team. He will be particularly key in the games against Portugal and Spain.

One to watch

Hakim Ziyech who plays for Ajax Amsterdam is nimble of foot and has a playmaking ability to make the heart race when he is at his best. The only question marks will be on whether he can perform consistently in Russia.

Prospects

It might sound odd but Morocco represents one of Africa's best prospects for success at the 2018 World Cup, and that has nothing to do with the quality the team will be up against in Group B being sub-par, because it is not. Morocco could be that good, because the talent is available. If the Atlas Lions play without any shackles they are capable of beating Iran and upsetting Portugal. But will they?

World Cup Low

Morocco was eliminated from France '98 despite managing a scintillating 3-0 win over Scotland in which Mustapha Hadji stood out.

World Cup Legend

Abderrazak Khairi was the star of a stunning 3-1 win over Portugal at the 1986 World Cup, which shot Morocco into the Round of 16 for their first and only time to date.

Fifa ranking

Morocco are ranked No.42 by Fifa.

Coach

Herve Renard

Fact file

How they qualified:

Finished top of Caf qualifying Group C

WC Appearances: 4

World Cup Record: 1970 - First round;

1986 - Second round; 1994 - First round;

1998 - First round

Overall Record: P 13, W 2, D 4, L 7

Best performance: Second round in 1986

WC High: A 3-1 win over Portugal at

Mexico'86 remains the Atlas Lions' most

impressive result to date.

Probable II

1. Munir Mohamedi

2. Nabil Dirar

3. Hamza Mendyl

4. Romain Saiss

5. Medhi Benatia (captain)

6. Mbark Boussoufa

7. Karim El Ahmadi

8. Nordin Amrabat

9. Younes Belhanda

10. Hakim Ziyech

11. Khalid Boutaib

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