FT World Cup 2018: Morocco's Tournament in Review
Lacked a cutting edge, but a lot of positives to pick up from one of the toughest groups
If we are to be realistic, not much was expected of Morocco after being seeded in Group B with European giants Portugal, Spain as well as Iran. Of course, we were behind them as they raised the flag of Africa sky high and hoped that they would have enough to cause an upset in the group and prove that matches are not won on paper. Here’s a recap of their performance in the tournament.
Morocco vs Iran (June 15)
FirstTouch Africa previewed the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia competition ahead of time and we anticipated that they would bring their exciting passing game to Iran and dazzle the fans. They never came short of that expectation. For the longest parts of the match, Morocco was the dominant team. Benatia was rock solid at the back as usual, and Amrabat was a threat on the byline. What was lacking for the Lions of the Atlas (أسود الأطلس) was that Didier Drogba type of forward who could bury all the chances home especially the ones they created in the first 20 minutes. They played like their lives depended on it, and it was no surprise that Iran had only 32% possession to show for their lucky victory against the African team. Morocco unfortunately lost by virtually the last kick of the match through an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz on the 95th minute. That performance was promising, and expectations started building up towards the match against the European Champions, Portugal.
Portugal vs Morocco (June 20)
Morocco needed a response but they could only do so much in a match against a defensively resolute Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo scored early for Portugal through a fierce header on the 4th minute, and it was enough to confirm Morocco’s early exit from the biggest individual sporting event in the world as they failed to find the back of the net for the second consecutive match. That one goal kept the fans on the edge of their seats throughout the match with Morocco giving all the effort they could in a do-or-die match. The Portuguese full-back, Rafael Guerrero had the longest 90 minutes of his career facing Amrabat and Dirar who bombed upfield whenever they had the opportunity. Again, no one was on the receiving end of the dangerous balls from the flanks and Morocco had no one to blame but themselves for not finishing past Rui Patricio. With two defeats, Morocco was out of the tournament days into the competition.
Spain vs Morocco (June 25)
It was a match of pride really. Irzem and Atlasi were out to prove that they were not a pushover and issue a strong closing statement as they bowed out of the tournament. Morocco learned from their mistakes as forward Khalid Boutaib scored their first goal in the tournament on the 14th minute to stun Spain. The Spaniards responded through Isco a few minutes later, and it was all-square when the teams went in for a break. The VAR evidently determined the fate of the teams in Group B, and it is quite surprising that some incidents went unpunished like Gerard Pique’s double-foot challenge. Nonetheless, Morocco again found the lead for the second time in the match through substitute En Nesyri on the 81st minute. An African team was on the verge of breaking the Spaniard’s 22-game unbeaten run. Fellow substitute Iago Aspas also scored on the other end to make sure that Spain shares the spoils with أسود الأطلس in their last match of the tournament. It was a proud moment when the referee ended the match as Morocco proved to the world that they could play against the top 2 teams in Europe and give them a run for their money.
1. Morocco’s style of play causes problems for any team they face.
2. There is room for improvement in terms of finishing.
3. VAR is not always fair.
4. Achraf Hakimi is one for the future.
5. Coach Herve Renard’s tactics were spot on.
Morocco was fairly good in the tournament. They had a lot of players who play in the most competitive leagues in the world, and it was beautiful to watch them in sync as they played a possession football that even Arsene Wenger would be proud of. The players played out of passion and love for the game and nothing else. If Morocco were named in any other group, they probably would have made it to the next round because Group B had brutal fixtures.
They need to find sharp-shooters who are ruthless in front of goal and take the 2019 African Cup of Nations by storm.