Morocco's Stingy Defense Faces World Cup Challenge in Strong Group

Morocco didn't concede a goal in six qualifiers under Herve Renard, but Spain and Portugal will present a different type of challenge in World Cup Group B.
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Despite sitting 42nd in the FIFA world rankings, Morocco has the potential to be one of this World Cup's surprise packages. 

Key to its potential success at the World Cup will be manager Hervé Renard.

Renard is a highly respected coach on the African continent, and since taking over at Morocco has only bolstered his impressive CV. The French coach joined the Moroccan national team as the only manager to have won the African Cup of Nations with two different countries, first with Zambia and then with Ivory Coast. He was appointed the Morocco boss in 2016, and since then has won the African Nations Championship, while also guiding the Lions of the Atlas to their first World Cup in 20 years. 

The coach also has a number of players capable of catching the eye in Russia. In particular, Hakim Ziyech, who has been linked with moves to both AS Roma and Liverpool following an exceptional season at Ajax. Here's what you need to know about Morocco.

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How They Qualified

Morocco was impressive in qualification for the World Cup, finishing atop of a tough group that included Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali. 

Morocco drew its opening two games of qualification against Gabon and Ivory Coast 0-0 before finally finding some goalscoring form against Mali. But a 6-0 win in the home matchup was not enough to provide momentum in the reverse fixture, where it again saw out a 0-0 draw. 

Huge wins over Gabon and the Ivory Coast sent the Moroccans firmly to the top of their group, meaning they qualified without losing a game or conceding a single goal over the whole qualifying campaign. 

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Group Stage Games

Morocco has only qualified for four World Cups, and the furthest it has reached was the round of 16 in 1986.

To better that performance will be tough task for this year's side, despite its remarkable qualifying campaign. It has been drawn in Group B alongside Spain, Portugal and Iran. 

Morocco figures to need to win its first game of the tournament against Iran on June 15 if it is to stand any chance of progressing further than the group stage, as games against Portugal and Spain will be tough for the African side to win. 

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Possible Route to the Final


Morocco's best chance of getting out of the group is for Spain to win all their games, and Morocco to beat Portugal to second in the group. This would mean that it would be paired with the winner of Group A in the last 16.

Uruguay is the obvious frontrunner in that group and would go into the matchup as a strong favorite, but in the unlikely event that Morocco makes it this far, it will have proved that it can put in a performance against the world's best. 

But beyond Uruguay, either France or Argentina could stand in Morocco's way of further progression, both of whom you would expect to ease past Renard's side. 

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Goalkeepers: Mounir Mohamedi (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille)

Midfielders: Mbark 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 Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga)

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Predicted Lineup


(4-3-3) Mounir Mohamedi; Nabil Dirar, Romain Saiss, Mehdi Benatia, Achraf Hakimi; Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Younes Belhanda; Hakim Ziyech, Khalid Boutaib, Nordin Amrabat

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Morocco is defensively sound, and its center back pairing of Saiss and Benatia proved capable in qualifying of thwarting even the best attackers. Their ability to contain both Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ivory Coast's dynamic front line of Wilfried Zaha and Seydou Doumbia stands them in good stead to continue that form into this summer's competition.

Morocco has more than enough firepower to see off Iran, but to take points off Portugal and Spain might be too much to ask, even if Morocco is at its best. Spain enters the tournament as one of the favorites to win the whole competition, while Cristiano Ronaldo's influence–and his goals–will likely be enough to see Portugal through. 

Morocco has a slim chance of edging past Portugal into second place in the group, but perhaps more likely is a respectable third-placed finish, having turned in some commendable performances.