25 June 2018

Africa: Will Atlas Lions Exit With Some Pride? #WorldCup2018

Photo: SABC screenshot
Morocco first goal vs Spain.
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Cape Town — Whether the Atlas Lions devour Spain or not, this match is just one that will see Morocco play for  pride at Kaliningrad Stadium tonight.

Spain is wanting to rekindle the memories of 2010 and win the greatest football event on Earth once again. While Morocco hopes to redeem themselves and get on the score sheets, and salvage some pride.

In a previous blog post by colleague Nontobeko Mlambo, she wondered if Morocco's plane back to Rabat is already on the runway. Well today is the day the team's fate will be sealed as they meet La Furugia, The Red Fury of Spain.

Morocco's World Cup 2018 outing has been disastrous to say the least - no wins and no points. A 20-year absence from the World Cup has not done them any favours.

In their current form, I really don't think they stand a chance of winning against the Red Fury. However sometimes when a team has its back to the wall it brings out the best in them. Let's hope that's true of Morocco.

Their heart-breaking defeat to European champions Portugal means that Morocco became the first team out of the World Cup. Coach Herve Renard has been left fuming at what he calls "questionable officiating" with the new VAR system, with Spain agreeing with Renard's assertions.

The coach was also called aside for "a word" by the referee during the Portugal match for his behaviour on the sidelines.

Here's why Morocco has a blank scoresheet:

  • Loss to Iran - 0-1
  • Loss to Portugal 0-1

Win/Loss/Draw over Spain?

While Morocco suffers all the drama, they must expect no sympathy from 2010 World Cup champs Spain, who are wanting a win for an easier passage to the knockout stage. A draw would be enough for Spain if Portugal beats Iran in the other Group B match.

However, new coach Fernando Hierro is wary of the Moroccan threat: "Anybody who thinks it's going to be very easy to score and win by a landslide, especially during this first stage is wrong," he said. For a team that lost their manager, Julen Lopetegui, who was fired on the eve of the World Cup, Spain has really come out fighting!

Who could forget the exciting goal feast in the match between Spain and Portugal which, despite the match ending in a draw, saw some really great skill and precision kicking from both Spain and of course Portugal's Ronaldo. With key play maker and striker Diego Costa the danger man for Spain, anything can happen.

Spain's standings are:

  • Draw with Portugal  3-3
  • Win over Iran 1-0

So it's not all plain sailing for Spain. The team currently shares the same number of points with Portugal, with both teams on top of their Group B standings. If both end up with exactly the same points once all matches in Group B are finalised, there may be other considerations, like the number of yellow cards etc, before the drawing of lots to see which team goes through... This is the cruellest punishment to any team, considering how long they have waited for the tournament and the time and great effort they spent honing their skills.

Tonight will be a great soccer match, with both teams giving of their best. Let's hope that nerves don't allow too many fouls and other tactical errors on either side and that a good game can be had by players and fans alike.

As an African, I am backing Morocco to give a good account of themselves, which largely, they have done, despite the zero score sheet.

Spain:

Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina, David de Gea, Kepa Arrizabalaga
Defenders: Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Alvaro Odriozola, Nacho Monreal, Cesar Azpilicueta
Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Saul Niguez, Koke, Isco, Marco Asensio, Thiago Alcantara, David Silva
Strikers: Iago Aspas, Rodrigo, Diego Costa, Lucas Vazquez

Morocco:
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui,, Yassine Bounou, Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Manuel Da Costa, Nabil Dirar, Achraf Hakimi, Hamza Mendyl
Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Youssef Ait Bennasser, Sofyan Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, Faycal Fajr, Amine Harit
Strikers: Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi, Nordin Amrabat, Mehdi Carcela, Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En Nesyri

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