It has been twenty years since Morocco played in the World Cup. So are there any chances of a dramatic Morocco World Cup run?
Ranked at number 42 in the world, they are certainly not expected to win the tournament. But that doesn’t mean that they should be ignored overall. In the past, they have threatened to go far in the tournament and were once ranked as high as number 10 in the FIFA world rankings (after the 1998 World Cup). This will be the Atlas Lions’ fifth appearance at the finals. Their best result came at the 1986 tournament when they reached the Round of 16. Though they were knocked out during the group stages at the 1998 finals, they had been expecting to advance there as well. Set to go through, Morocco simply relied upon the defending champions Brazil beating Norway. With 12 minutes left to go, Brazil were leading 1-0. However, the Norwegians managed to turn the match around, and their shock victory propelled them into the knockout stage instead of Morocco.
Though many of the players will be missing the valuable experience of having played top-flight internationals before, Morocco do have wisdom amongst their ranks. They have the influence of the experienced coach Hervé Renard. He has the distinction of being the only manager to have won the Africa Cup of Nations with two different teams (Zambia and The Ivory Coast). Since taking over the reins with Morocco in February 2016, Renard has instilled a new spirit in the team. They reached the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017. This was their best result in thirteen years. Under the guidance of Renard, with their strong performance during the world cup qualifiers, and a star player in their line-up, Morocco will hope to do more than just make up the numbers at Russia 2018.
How Morocco Reached the World Cup Finals 2018
In the final round of the African World Cup qualifiers, Morocco were placed in group C. They faced The Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Mali. Though The Ivory Coast are always dangerous opponents, Morocco beat them to the top of the table. They did so in style, being unbeaten in all six of their matches.
After goalless draws against Gabon and The Ivory Coast, Morocco began to get into their stride and surged past Mali 6-0 at home. In the return fixture, the Atlas Lions were disappointed to only come away with a draw. However, they finished the qualifiers well, comfortably beating Gabon and The Ivory Coast. Without having conceded a single goal during round three, Morocco can set their eyes on the World Cup Finals.
Morocco at Russia 2018
If Morocco were hoping for a favourable draw for the World Cup, they certainly did not get it. They are in Group B, alongside Portugal, Spain, and Iran. All three teams are ranked ahead of Morocco in the FIFA rankings, and so even the match against Iran will not be an easy one.
In the last World Cup, they were particularly impressive against Argentina, requiring some skill from Lionel Messi in the 90th minute to defeat them. After Iran, Morocco will face the current European champions: Portugal. The quality of Portugal is clear, and it seems unlikely that Morocco will have many answers to the skills of Cristiano Ronaldo in particular. Finally, Morocco will play Spain. It is true that Spain are no longer playing with the terrifying precision and cohesion which saw them win the 2008 and 2012 European Championships as well as the 2010 World Cup. But they are still an incredible team and stormed through the world cup qualifiers.
Against the offensive abilities of Spain and Portugal, Morocco will have to rely on their tenacious defensive abilities. In particular, they will need their captain to be at his best.
Medhi Benatia was first made captain of the national side for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, and led the team strongly. A true team player, the central defender stepped down from his captaincy in March, stating that he did not think it right for him to lead when he was not currently a first-team player for Juventus. It is this spirit that marks him out as a true captain. Having now settled more firmly into his place within Juventus (after moving there from Bayern Munich) he is once more in charge.
He is known as a strong and powerful defender, with good pace, a level head and a good ability to read a game. Having played for some of the biggest teams in Europe, he brings experience defending against the best strikers in the world. This will surely be essential if he is to help guide his nation to any success at these World Cup finals. In the last match of the World Cup qualifiers, Benatia slotted home a header against The Ivory Coast. It was his first goal for his country, and he described it as the “most beautiful moment of my career” in a post-match interview.
As firm outsiders for the World Cup, Morocco’s odds of winning are among the longest. You can get 500/1* from BetVictor for Morocco winning the tournament. Though still far from favourites, the bookmakers seem to be much more confident of Morocco’s chances of finishing as the tournament’s top African team. None of the five African nations at the finals are expected to progress too far, and so all are fairly even in the odds currently. BetVictor is once again offering the best odds for this, laying 7/1 against Morocco finishing as the best African team.
*All odds are subject to change