Morocco returns to the World Cup in 2018, 20 years after its last appearance. Led by former Ivory Coast boss Herve Renard, the African nation boasts a physical defense, a team that prides itself on teamwork and a hunger to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage. In Group B with Spain, Portugal and Iran, they are going to need a huge upset to get through.
The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard who has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo.
World Cup appearances:
Best finish: Round of 16, 1986
Last World Cup: 1998
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France)
Midfielders: M’bark Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke)
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St. Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
Medhi Benatia. The Juventus defender is the captain and a veteran of this team, guiding the team to its first World Cup in 20 years. He’s strong, talented and demanding at the back. He can make stops that can change games and is also a valid option in attack of set pieces when it comes to heading the ball.
Player to watch
Young 24-year-old forward Ayoub El Kaabi. He’s got 10 goals in eight caps and has been a bright spot on this team entering the tournament. He’s been a prolific scorer for the two clubs he has played for. Currently at Moroccan club RS Berkane, he has 21 goals in 38 matches for them. He made his international debut at the Africa Nations Championship in January.
You just have to feel like Morocco and Iran are both doomed being in a group with Spain and Portugal. They are two of the most talented teams and favorites to go really far. If Morocco wants to have a chance, it’s going to have to get at least five points, meaning beating Iran and drawing Spain and Portugal. But that feels really unlikely. You never know in the World Cup, and anything can happen. But what seems most likely to happen is they play three matches and then head home. If they can be ultra-defensive and limit mistakes, they’ll have a small shot.