Morocco make a first trip to the World Cup in 20 years with a squad that is both youthful and experienced. Can they make it out of a tough group?
Honours: Africa Cup of Nations, 1976
FIFA Ranking: 42
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Morocco made the third round of CAF qualifying courtesy of a 2-1 win against Equatorial Guinea. They were drawn in a tough looking group containing Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali.
However, Herve Renard’s men beat ivory Coast in a winner-takes-all clash on the final matchday to win the group. The Atlas Lions’ success was built on defensive solidarity, conceding not a solitary goal on their way to winning the group undefeated. They’re pretty handy going forward too, with 11 goals making them second highest scoring side at the third stage of African qualifying.
A very impressive performance given Morocco were seeded third in the group.
The 25-year-old arrives at the World Cup on the back of a stellar year in Dutch football, where he was named Dutch Footballer of the Year.
The former Twente man can play anywhere across the frontline, and has an impressive eight goals in 15 games for the national team. Add into the mix his ability to get an assist – he has provided the most in the Eredivisie for the past two seasons – and Ziyech could have a standout World Cup.
This Moroccan side are laden with young talent, including Achraf Hakim, 19, Oussama Tannane, 24, Amine Harit, 20, and the aforementioned Ziyech.
Harit, of the above, has the highest ceiling. He won the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2016 with France before switching allegiance to Morocco in 2017. In tandem with Ziyech, the Schalke playmaker is responsbile for the Atlas Lions’ creative outlet. His trickery drew three penalties in the Bundesliga last season and his pace is a key weapon.
THE COACH – Herve Renard
Renard, who steered Zambia to a first AFCON win in 2012, took over as Morocco boss in 2016, and has taken them to a first World Cup in 20 years. He seems ideally suited to national team management, having taken Ivory Coast to AFCON glory in 2015 – becoming the first manager to win the tournament with two different countries.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
This is their fifth trip to the finals. They last qualified in 1998, when they were eliminated in the first round from a group that included Brazil, Norway and Scotland. In fact, the Atlas Lions have only once gone beyond the group stage and that was back in 1986, where they fell to eventual finalists West Germany at the last-16
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
They come to the tournament with a nice mix of experience and youthful exuberance, and have a coach who excels at tournament football. Also, having been drawn in a tough group, expectations are low; therefore, they could emerge as the tournament’s surprise package.
June 15th: Iran
June 20th: Portugal
June 25th: Spain