The Atlas Lions are back at the World Cup after a 20-year absence, and their tactical solidity and the tenacity instilled by Hervé Renard can make them difficult opponents
Two decades, 20 years and four World Cups have almost erased Morocco from the global football chessboard. Years of frustration have made fans almost renounce their right to see the national team play at the highest level of international competition.
But the arrival of former Cambridge United manager Renard at the start of 2016 changed everything. The Frenchman brought a fighting spirit: most of the players had been around many years, but Renard added his touch of salt. First, he made Mbark Boussoufa step back from his attacking duties. Along with Karim El Ahmadi, the experience in midfield is consolidated by Younès Belhanda who completes a triangle when the team loses possession.
The other main change brought by Renard involves the defensive role of Romain Saïss, who became a central defender, switching from his box-to-box natural habitat. This has made the team stronger in the air. After Hamza Mendyl’s injury, Renard made yet another transformation, with Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi playing as a left-back, a role he had never played in before.
Achraf is a more technical player and has a fine rapport with the real playmaker of the team, Hakim Ziyech. The Ajax man usually starts on the left side, before taking over the central midfield and sometimes swaps positions with Nordin Amrabat, the team’s raging bull.
Khalid Boutaib plays a role of the traffic control tower and doesn’t refuse any gift from his team-mates. Beyond the starting XI, players coming off the bench include the likes of Fayçal Fajr. “Fayçal is somebody who is essential to this group,” said Renard in March. “He’s capable of playing in the midfield five positions and helps me manage the ones that are not happy staying on the bench.”
Renard is likely to renew his faith in a 4-2-3-1 formation, switching from 4-4-2 in defensive phases to 4-3-3 in attack.
Probable starting XI (4-2-3-1):
Boussoufa- El Ahmadi
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Undoubtedly Hakim Ziyech. The playmaker is the most talented player in the Moroccan squad and helped Ajax reach the Europa League final in 2017.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
The goalkeeper Munir has got the entire group’s confidence, but hardly played this year with Spanish second tier side Numancia. He’s shown difficulties to manage his coming for the ball in the test match against Serbia last March.
What is the realistic aim for Morocco at the World Cup 2018 and why?
Despite qualifying to the World cup conceding just one goal in the process, Morocco will struggle extend their defensive streak. It all depends on the first game against Iran. Only a win could push Hervé Renard’s side to a brighter future and maybe a place in the last 16, which could be the realistic aim. If they succeed, then and only then, the sky is the limit.