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World Cup

Will Morocco, not Senegal, be Africa’s World Cup dark horses?

2:20 PM WAT 23/11/2022
Morocco fan, Koulibaly, Saiss
GOAL’s Ed Dove lists six reasons why the Atlas Lions’ draw with Croatia proves they could be Africa’s best bet in Qatar
  • Avoiding defeat was imperative

    Morocco had one of the toughest opening fixtures of all of Africa’s World Cup contenders, after being pitted against 2018 finalists Croatia.

    The European side are ranked 12th in the world, and boast players with experience of going the distance in the tournament.

    Knowing Belgium, ranked second in the Fifa rankings, are still to come, it was imperative that Morocco avoided defeat in their opener.

    A draw ensures they’ll still be in the running until the end of their third fixture, where victory over Canada could be enough to progress.

  • Modric HI

    Morale boost from winning midfield battle

    As well as the morale boost that comes from holding the 2018 finalists, Morocco can also take a lot of confidence from how they neutralised Croatia’s midfield.

    Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic are one of the best midfield partnerships in the international game, and yet they were silenced and stifled by the excellent work of Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi in particular.

    Morocco won’t face as talented a duo again for the rest of the group stage, and having silenced Modric and Brozovic, they will fancy their chances of neutralising Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans.

  • Hakimi Ziyech vs Croatia.

    More to come from Ziyech

    Hakim Ziyech looked sharp during the early stages, and was positively bubbling with creativity during the first half.

    He dovetailed well with Achraf Hakimi and caught out the Croatia backline with some delicious through-balls; Youssef En-Nesyri should surely have opened the scoring during the first period.

    Admittedly, he faded after the break, but this wasn’t entirely surprising considering how little he’s featured for Chelsea recently.

    As the games continue, and as Ziyech gets more minutes under his belt, expect his influence to increase.

  • Walid Regragui of Morocco

    Regragui earns his stripes

    Walid Regragui has an excellent coaching reputation in Africa, where he’s guided Wydad Casablanca to the Caf Champions League crown, but has no experience of this level.

    The early indications are that he’s got the talent to get the best out of this collection of players, with Wednesday’s draw a strong affirmation of his talent.

    Morocco were disciplined, well organised, defensively resolute and had clearly done their homework on the European heavyweights.

    They have talented players, of course, but Regragui must take the plaudits for establishing a strategy and an approach that allowed Morocco to take a point…and arguably even hope for more.

  • Morocco World Cup 2022 Supporter

    Immense home support

    It felt as though Morocco were playing a home game on Wednesday, with their supporters turning out en masse to support the Atlas Lions.

    It was a similar story for Tunisia on Tuesday, as their partisan support engulfed their Danish counterparts and—as the team’s 12th man—played a critical role in ensuring the Carthage Eagles were also able to take a point from tough European opposition.

    It’s a sign of things to come, with travelling fans bolstered by Qatari supporters throwing their weight behind Arab teams, and it could prove to be a massive advantage to both Tunisia and Morocco as they look to reach the knockouts.

  • Yassine Bounou Morocco.

    An outstanding keeper

    While Achraf Hakimi was Morocco’s star performer, and went close with a thunderous second-half effort, Morocco also benefited from a fine display from Yassine Bounou…who served a reminder that he’s arguably Africa’s best keeper today.

    At 31, he’s in his prime, and also has experience of the elite level of competition with Sevilla, having impressed in La Liga and the Champions League.

    On three occasions he rose high to claim the ball effectively and ease the pressure on his defence, demonstrating his bravery and tenacity to get stuck in…picking up an injury in the process.

    African teams have been let down by sub-par goalkeeping displays at the tournament in the past, but in Bono, Morocco have a stopper they can rely on.