Morocco’s football team displays strong defence ahead of World Cup

Morocco’s defence will be seriously tested against Spain and Portugal, which scored 36 and 32 goals, respectively, in ten qualifying games
Sunday 10/06/2018
Talented playmaker.  Morocco’s midfielder Hakim Ziyech controls the ball during the friendly match between Morocco and Ukraine, on  May 31.                             (AFP)
Talented playmaker. Morocco’s midfielder Hakim Ziyech controls the ball during the friendly match between Morocco and Ukraine, on May 31. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Morocco sent a clear warning to its rival teams in FIFA World Cup Group B with a stunning performance against Slovakia in a friendly game in Geneva.

Morocco’s Atlas Lions are in the “group of death” along with Spain, Portugal and Iran.

The North African team played with pace and aggression in its 2-1 victory against Slovakia.

“Morocco shows its claws to Spain and Portugal” read an article’s headline on the Spanish sports daily Marca’s website. Marca said that Spain and Portugal — the two favourites of Group B — were going to have a tough group rival after the Morocco-Slovakia game.

“Morocco made a show of speed, verticality, pressure and intensity that dislodged Slovakia at all times. It was clear which team was preparing (for) a World Cup and which was counting the minutes to start the holidays. Even so, Julen Lopetegui (Spain’s national team manager) must take good note of what was seen in Geneva,” reported Marca.com.

Moroccans showed they have what it takes to compete for a qualifying place thanks to an offensive game that looks to create many scoring opportunities. However, goals have proven difficult for the Atlas Lions to collect.

Morocco’s Manager Herve Renard is the second French coach to guide Morocco to its fifth World Cup tournament. Henri Michel took the Atlas Lions to France 1998. Morocco went 1-1-1 in group play that year but did not advance to the knockout stage. Morocco also played in the 1970, 1986 and 1994 World Cup tournaments.

Renard has built a strong team, led by Juventus central defender Mehdi Benatia, that will be difficult to penetrate defensively. The Moroccans posted clean sheets in all their six games in qualifying play.

Morocco’s defence will be seriously tested against Spain and Portugal, which scored 36 and 32 goals, respectively, in ten qualifying games

Morocco might have difficulties in its attacking power as the Atlas Lions had difficulty finishing attacks in friendlies against Ukraine and Slovakia. They scored 11 goals in the six qualifying games.

Renard dropped Southampton’s talented winger Sofiane Boufal from his final 23-man squad in a surprising move. He chose Malaga striker Youssef En Nesyri over Raja Casablanca defender Badr Banoun. Only two players from domestic clubs made the World Cup squad.

All eyes are on Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who has had a great season in the Dutch league. His striking performance in Morocco’s 6-0 win against Mali in qualifying made him one of the players to watch in the World Cup.

Morocco’s best finish in a World Cup was when it advanced to the knockout round after topping Group F in Mexico 1986, losing to West Germany in the Round of 16. Renard’s squad will certainly be inspired by the historic 3-1 win against Portugal in Mexico that year.

Morocco’s first World Cup game is June 15 against Iran and is expected to be tough. Iran conceded only five goals and went undefeated in 18 qualifying games. A win against Iran is crucial to give Moroccans momentum against the two European heavyweights in Group B.

Morocco is to play Portugal on June 20 and Spain on June 25 in its other group-stage games.

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