20 June 2018

Morocco: Is Morocco's Plane to Rabat Already on the Runway?

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It's day 7 of the World Cup and I am still hopeful that at least two African teams will go through to the next stages of the 2018 tournament.

It doesn't help that Morocco is up against one of the tournament's favourites, Portugal.

After Morocco's 1-0 loss to the Islamic Republic of Iran and scoring that shameful own goal, one can only hope that Portugal will not send the Atlas Lions packing. The two teams have only previously met in the 1986 World Cup and Morocco's 3-1 victory was their first ever win in the tournament.

The Morocco team will need nothing but all three points in this match but how will they pull that off while playing against that Real Madrid goal machine Christiano Ronaldo's team? CR7, as he is well known, is the same man who scored a hat-trick in their first match against Spain.

Having to face another favourite, Spain, which has an array of stars and a prolific attack line, Morocco is aware that a loss in any of these two games sends them straight back to Rabat.

After kickoff, it took just four minutes and 11 seconds for 33-year-old Ronaldo to score the first goal of the match, making him the leading European goal scorer with 85 goals in 185 matches.

Frustration was written all over the Morocco Coach Hervé Renard's face, whom my colleague Esther Rose refers to as the "White Shirt Man" because of his signature look.

His players were also frustrated and getting increasingly annoyed with American referee Mark Geiger when he refused to grant them a penalty kick after Nordin Amrabat was brought down by Raphael Guerreiro around 25 minutes into the game.

When the tournament started I had hope that the Frenchman will lead Morocco to the next level of the tournament considering his good winning record. He led the Zambian national team to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and again Ivory Coast in 2015, becoming the first coach to win two Africa Cup of Nations with different countries.

But with Portugal losing only one out of 25 competitive internationals since Fernando Santos took over as coach in September 2014, the odds were heavily against Morocco with soccer pundits giving a 60% chance to the Portuguese.

Portugal dominated the match and had more ball possession than their opponents during the first half but could not manage to score a second goal.

As soon as the second half started I could tell that the Moroccans were determined to try their best to equalise. Despite several attempts to score and working their way closer to the Portugal goal posts, Morocco just could not test goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

They also missed a number of opportunities to score considering the number of free kicks they had. CR7 could not move as since scoring the first goal of the match, the Moroccan team made sure he was marked, making it hard for his teammates to get the ball to him.

I think Morocco dominated the second half of the match and were much stronger than their opponents. They knocked on the Portuguese's door several times but lady luck was just not on their side and they could not find that good pass and that last perfect finish. Portuguese players on the other hand were falling over more easily than bowling pins.

The 1-0 result means Morocco are the first team to be eliminated from this year's tournament while Portugal is on top of Group B with four points.

Portugal will face Iran with a chance to win the group on June 24, while Morocco's chances of qualifying for the next stage are over.

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