Russia’s Cellar Dwellers: #1-Morocco
Grouped with tournament favourites Spain and Portugal, Morocco were always going to face an uphill battle getting out of the group stages. Factor in a demoralizing opening day defeat due to a stoppage time own goal against Iran, and Morocco were as good as gone before the tournament even started. However, that didn’t stop them from dazzling their world class opposition and dominating the proceedings for large parts of their games.
On the balance of play – make no mistake about it – Morocco deserved to go through. They made Spain look vulnerable at the back on many occasions and arguably deserved more against an uninspiring Portugal side simply looking to eek out a result. The difference, however, was that one side had Cristiano Ronaldo and the other had Khalid Boutaib. Against Portugal, the Moroccans created a number of chances and even had a majority of the ball, but couldn’t capitalize. With Amine Harit and Hakim Ziyech interchanging with ease in the final third, Morocco were difficult to defend against yet still couldn’t make it count.
If it weren’t for their mediocre striking options – and that’s putting it nicely – Hervé Renard’s men could have been a serious dark horse in Russia. While Mehdi Benatia is on the wrong side of thirty, there are a few players ready to step up into leadership roles for the Lions of the Atlas, including Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi who had a stellar campaign.
What Morocco now need is the courage to rejuvenate their roster and rid themselves of their declining players in order to build around their current crop of talents. It’s time for a revolution in Marrakesh.
By: Gregory Caltabanis