15 June 2018

Africa: Rough Road Ahead for Atlas Lions After Own Goal

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The Atlas Lions of Morocco began their World Cup campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran on Friday.

Honestly, soccer pundits see little chance of both teams progressing to the next round given that they are in a group that is completed by the 2010 World Cup champions Spain and the current European champions Portugal. With opponents of this calibre, both these teams were aware that this was a must-win game if they wanted to stand any chance of making it to the next round.

Miracles happen in football though, and given the defensive record of the lions, they may have fancied themselves causing an upset. I mean, they did go through the group stages without conceding a goal...

But it was not to be - an own goal from Azi Bouhadouz left the Moroccans absolutely distraught. Will such a defense be able to contain the fire power of Spain and Portugal? It will require a miracle.

On the attack side the Moroccans are pretty young and inexperienced (average age of 21) and might have a very difficult time trying to match the very experienced Portuguese and Spaniards. The last-minute own goal left supporters stunned and the looks on their faces told the story - they think their stay in Russia will be a very short one.

Both teams have as head coaches people who have plied their trade on the continent:  Carlos Queiroz, head coach of Iran is the former manager of South Africa's Bafana Bafana, while Herve Renard has had success with Zambia and Cote d'Ivoire, winning the African Cup of Nations with both teams. At the end of it all Queiroz got one over Renard.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how the Moroccans dust themselves off and face Portugal. It is a tall order and the Eagles will need to dig deep and develop a winning mentality against Portuguese and Spanish sides that boast some of the best players in the world. They may be helped by the fact that Spain needed a new coach only 72 hours before the tournament kicked off.

Before then they have the likes of Portugal's Christiano Ronaldo to contend with.

But miracles happen in football so think twice before placing that bet.

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