The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Morocco

Morocco National Team

The Atlas Lions

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Morocco

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 3-3-0
Current FIFA World Ranking (April 2018) – 42nd
World Cup 2014 Finish – DNQ
Russia 2018 Group B (Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran)
Formation – 4-2-3-1
Strengths – Excellently organized defense, great link-up play, capable of some great passing
Weaknesses – Can be caught ball watching in defense, goalscoring can be an issue
Major Threats – Hakim Ziyech, Khalid Boutaib, Younes Belhanda

The last time the Atlas Lions were in the World Cup (1998), they entertained the world with beautiful football and thoroughly entertaining games but crashed out in the 1st round nonetheless, they’ll hope to escape that fate this time around though signs point at familiar result.
Are you a fan of the Atlas Lions or just really love all National Team Jerseys? Remember to buy a jersey now before the tournament starts!

Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

The FRMF will be happy to have made the World Cup so convincingly but they’ll know that being grouped with Spain and Portugal is a rough hand to be dealt. Victory over Iran will make a good outing for them, anything more would be a bonus.


DEFENSE:

Coach Herve Renard has built a great reputation on the African continent for his excellent work with several national teams but the body of work he has done with Morocco so far may arguably be his most impressive. Much like his teams in Angola, Zambia, and Ivory Coast, this team is built on a foundation of a rock-solid defense first, and then a great amount of flair going forward. However what has made this North African experience truly outstanding is how significantly he has switched the mindset and culture of the Lions. The Moroccan teams have always had a history of playing with flair and entertaining the fans but this side has added a reserve of steel and doggedness + pride in defending that is new and enthralling to watch.

Led by Juventus man Mehdi Benatia, Morocco can seem almost casual in the way they handle opposing attacks. There is a calmness to the defending of Benatia and center back partner Romain Saiss that comes directly from Renard’s demeanor. Benatia does a great job of being the coach on the field, constantly motivating his teammates and especially organizing his defense. The Juve man is strong and uncompromising in the tackle, and he gets forward a fair bit on setpieces to add goals to the attack. His partner Saiss plays in midfield and defense for Wolverhampton Wanderers and his doggedness and ability to play the ball out of the back mirror and complement Benatia’s well. This is a very impressive central defensive pairing.

In the fullback spots, Morocco have Nabil Dirar at rightback. He has vast experience with the national team and has played at the top level in Europe for years. His speed and trickiness down the right flank help give width to the Lions and in conjunction with the probable right winger Nordin Amrabat, they can be a handful for opponents. Dirar will cover at center back in the defensive phase too when the CB’s get caught upfront. The leftback position is a battle between two youngsters. 20 year old Hamza Mendyl of Lille has shown great promise so far and leftback is his natural position, he’d be the pencilled starter if his opponent wasn’t a player from Real Madrid. 19 year old Achraf Hakimi plays rightback at Real but he’s been playing on the left for Morocco. That versatility is great but also means his crossing isn’t as natural as you’d typically like. On the plus side, he can cut in from the flanks and be a goal threat.
Both wingbacks add width to Morocco’s attacks and will break behind complacent opposing defenses in a hurry. Morocco’s defending will be tested in the group but if they keep their heads as they did in qualifying, they’ll surprise many.

In goal, Morocco feature Munir Mohamedi in goal. He’s one of the best goalies on the African continent and will be looking to introduce the world to his superb goalkeeping skills.

MIDFIELD

If their defensive solidity is a surprise, Morocco’s ability to possess the ball beautifully going forward is not. The Atlas Lions have a superb midfield filled with ball handlers and creators who are great passers and dribblers of the ball. They are also quick to deploy the high press to try to get ball back as quickly as possible.
The base of the midfield has got the pair of Mbark Boussoufa and Karim El Ahmadi. Boussoufa acts as the midfield anchor/organizer, dictating the pace of play, and doing cleanup duty all around midfield. His decision making is superb and if the opponent can shut him down, they’d have done half the job of stopping Morocco, the worry with him might be his ability to influence the game over the full 90 minutes without running out of gas.
El Ahmadi is the defensive midfielder and pivot, primarily shielding the back four and many times man marking a selected opposing attacking midfielder or attacking influencer. He’s hard in the tackle, and wins a huge volume of tackles and interceptions. The two provide a great shield for the defense and a sound platform for the four attacking players in front of them.

Younes Belhanda, Hakim Ziyech, and Nordin Amrabat mix magic and grit to befuddle opponents. All three can play anywhere between the lines and across the field behind the center forward, and while Belhanda will probably be on the left, and Amrabat on the right, don’t be surprised if they switch it up and pop up anywhere across that final attacking third. Hakim Ziyech is the star man of this trio. He’s always looking to score or assist and will win a lot of fans in Russia with his wizardry on the ball. If they’re clicking, Morocco can make things uncomfortable for their opponents very fast.

Hakim Ziyech of Ajax and Morocco

Star man Hakim Ziyech

STRIKERS

The lone man role upfront is borne by Khalid Boutaib. His role is better understood and appreciated when you think of what he does for the integrity of the team structure and formation rather than just looking at his goals scored column. He dovetails well with the attacking midfielders behind him, and ties play together as a prime focal point who focuses on the team first. This is likely why Coach Renard plays him ahead of popular younger choices like Achraf Bencharki or Ayoub El Kaabi who may not even make the final squad.

As usual, center forwards are typically judged by the number of goals they score and the fact is Morocco does not have a prolific center forward to lead the line and that may be a worry especially considering the caliber of opponents lying in wait in Group B.
The attacking midfielders have to contribute immensely in the goal scoring aspect.

GAME by GAME (v Iran, v Portugal, v Spain)

*Keys to Iran game: Can the Lions capitalize on the absence of Saied Ezatolahi? Can Morocco isolate Alireza Jahanbakhsh? Can the attacking midfielders break down Iran’s resolute defense? Will Boutaib score?
Prediction: Iran are going to give Morocco a royal battle but the Africans should have enough to eke out a close win.

*Keys to Portugal game: Will Morocco frustrate Cristiano Ronaldo and keep him quiet for 90mins? Can the Moroccans win the midfield battle? Will Morocco convert their goal scoring chances when they get them?
Prediction: This is the vital group game for the Atlas Lions, no matter how the opening game goes, Morocco has to get something out of this to progress. Here, they get a point from the European champions.

*Keys to Spain game: How well will Morocco deal with Spain’s movement? Will the Atlas Lions handle lack of ball possession with discipline and focus? Can Boutaib get the better of Sergio Ramos? Can Belhanda and Ziyech take advantage of the space behind Spain’s wingbacks?
Prediction: This is not a good matchup for Morocco. Spain’s strengths are very good versus Morocco’s weaknesses. The Lions will hope Spain’s finishing is shaky but still this should be a win for the Europeans, the question is whether Morocco keep it close enough to win a possible goals difference situation and advance.

Morocco coach Herve Renard

Coach Herve Renard

Here’s the possible Moroccan Roster for Russia 2018

GOALKEEPERS (3): Yassine El Kharroubi, Munir Mohamedi, Yassine Bounou

DEFENDERS (8): Nabil Dirar, Achraf Hakimi, Mehdi Benatia, Romain Saiss, Hamza Mendyl, Manuel Da Costa, Oualid El Hajjam, Jawad El Yamiq

MIDFIELDERS (9): Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Younes Belhanda, Hakim Ziyech, Nordin Amrabat, Faycal Fajr, Sofiane Boufal, Zakaria Labyad, Amine Harit

FORWARDS (3): Khalid Boutaib, Aziz Bouhaddouz, Ayoub El Kaabi

Piece by Tise Okuo, frequent Center Circle writer, a recovering fan of Arsenal FC and lover of football.

 

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About the author: Tise Okuo

 

Soccer nut. Arsenal fan, used to enduring hard times. Admirer of the purity of tiki-taka, total football, catenaccio, and any other system bold enough to be itself. In my spare time, I am a professional thinker. Engage with me on Google+.

 

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