The Moroccan team will hold an open training session in Voronezh on Wednesday, June 13. The team will train for the World Cup 2018 at “Chaika” stadium. In the group stage, the Africans will meet with the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Iranians. Trainees of Voronezh sports schools and media representatives will be able to watch the training session. The correspondent of RIA “Voronezh” found out who of the players to participate at the open training session.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Moroccan team, nicknamed “Atlas Lions”, was one of the strongest in Africa. In 1986, the team presented one of the main sensations of the group stage of the World Cup: took first place in the group, beating the Portuguese and tied with England and Poland. In the 1/8 finals, the Africans played with the team of West Germany, and the future finalists of the tournament sent the Moroccans home with Lothar Matthaus’s goal in the last minute.
Next time, the Moroccan team played at the World Cup in eight years. In the US, the Africans played colorlessly, losing all three matches in the group: the Moroccans lost not only to Holland and Belgium, but also to Saudi Arabia. The country bid for the World Cup 1998, but the FIFA officials gave the tournament to the French. In 1998, the Moroccan team fell into one group with the favorites of the tournament – the Brazilians, Scots and Norwegians. With Africa’s best football player 1998 Mustafa Haji, the Moroccans defeated Scotland, lost to Brazil and tied with Norway. Until the last minute of the final match in the group, they progressed to knockout stage, but the Brazilians misseda ball from the Norwegians, and the Scandinavians outstripped the Africans by one point. After that, the Moroccans experienced an unsuccessful change of generations – the next time the national team qualified for the World Cup only 20 years later. Thus, Morocco is waiting for the Russian Cup more than ever.
In 2018, the Moroccans won the African Nations Championship, a tournament in which only players from the national championships of the Black Continent can take part.
The way to the World Cup 2018
In the preliminary stage, the Moroccan team played with Equatorial Guinea. In the two-round duel, the Moroccans were stronger, winning 2:0 and losing 0:1. In the group stage, the favorite was the Ivorian national team fool of stars, but Atlas Lions outplayed their main opponents in the last match with a score of 2:0. The victory was a national holiday – after that, the fans in Morocco were dancing on car roofs, and the fans in Belgium and France broke several shopwindows in temper. The Moroccans showed a diverse balanced play and did not miss a single ball for the entire group stage.
The captain of the Morocco national team stands out – Medhi Benatia used to play for A. S. Roma and FC Bayern München, and is currently the center back of Juventus as part of which he has won the Italian championship. However, there are enough European level players in Atlas Lions apart from Benatia. Mong them are Aziz Bouhaddouz from FC St. Pauli (who became famous during the Eredivisie Cup of the Netherlands), the Ambarat brothers, Youssef Aït Bennasser from SM Caen, Hakim Ziyech from Ajax (the FourFourTwo magazine called him the potential discovery of the FIFA World Cup), Fayçal Fajr from Getafe CF, Karim El Ahmadi from Feyenoord, Younès Belhanda from Galatasaray (who has won the championships of France and Turkey), Nabil Dirar (won the championship of France as part of AS Monaco), Hamza Mendyl from Lille and backup defender of Real Madrid Achraf Hakimi.
The most expensive player of Morocco is midfielder of German club Schalke 04 Amine Harit who, according to established web portal Transfermarkt, costs over £22 million. Also, the Atlas Lions include three footballers who used to play in the Russian championship. Manuel da Costa, who has won the Eredivisie Championship as part of PSV in 2007 and 2008, and Moubarak Boussoufa used to play for DC Lokomotiv Moscow, while Mehdi Carcela-González played for Anzhi Makhachkala. The only serious loss in the Moroccan team is Zouhair Feddal, a defender of Real Betis, who is going to miss the World Cup due to a trauma.
The national team is headed by Frenchman Hervé Renard. He hasn’t achieved true success during his player career – he played for weak football clubs (Stade de Vallauris, SC Draguignan) as a defender and didn’t win any trophies. As a coach, he has worked with football clubs of England, China, Angola, Algeria, Ghana and his native France. However, he didn’t achieve success on the club level and switched to working with national teams. He has done a wonder with the Zambia national team. After winning the Total Africa Cup of Nations, Renard received the citizenship of this country and got a promotion by heading the national team of Cote d'Ivoire. With this team he became the first one ever to win the Total Africa Cup of Nations twice with different teams.
Once he became the main coach of the Morocco national team, Renard turned this team into a machine which wisely uses opponents’ mistakes. Under his supervision, the Moroccan footballers have demonstrated the biggest gap between the scored and missed goals in the African qualification round – 11:0.
In any other group, the Moroccan footballers would have been an evident contender for the playoffs, but the Atlas Lions didn’t have luck with the draw. Hervé Renard’s team will compete in the 1/8 finals against European champions – the Portuguese team, the front-runners of the World Cup – the Spanish team, and the national team of Iran. Despite all the achievements in the qualification round, Morocco will hardly make it further than the third place in the group.
And the more global perspectives of the Moroccan football will be determined already before the start of the tournament, at the session of the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow. Morocco has applied for hosting the 2026 World Cup, and on June 13 in Moscow the football officials will decide whether to go with the African state or choose the triple combined application from Mexico, the USA and Canada.
In Morocco, only the audacious optimists believe in success: the 2026 tournament will be expanded to 48 teams for the first time ever, and it is unlikely for FIFA officials to entrust an African country with such a large-scale championship instead of more economically powerful Americans, Canadians and Mexicans. Earlier, Morocco had applied for hosting the World Cup four times and lost the voting each time.