• WC 2018: Expectations High for Moroccan Team After World Cup Final Draw

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – After a nearly 20-year absence, the Atlas Lions are heading back to the 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia next summer. The Moroccan team was placed today in Group B along with its neighbor, Spain, as well as Portugal and Iran.

    The Moroccan team showed its great determination in the World Cup qualifiers against notable African opponents like Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Mali. The Moroccan team will have to keep up this determination when playing against the most toughest football teams in the world: La Roja (Spain), Portugal, and Iran.

    The Lions will play against Iran in their first match, which is scheduled to take place on June 15. Morocco’s first World Cup opponent team was ranked 32th in the recent FIFA ranking and has qualified for the World Cup five times (in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018).

    The Moroccan team has been hitting international headlines throughout the World Cup qualifiers, as they finished undefeated. The fabulous victory against Cote d’Ivoire in the last qualifier on November 11 proved the team’s great will to do better achievements in the tournament’s next phase.

    After Iran, Morocco will face Portugal on June 20, the third best team in November’s FIFA ranking. The team has made six appearances in the World Cup, in 1966, 1986, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014, with the 2018 edition to be their seventh.

    The next battle for the Moroccan Lions will be against their neighboring team, La Roja. The Morocco-Spain match is scheduled to take place on June 25.

    The Spanish team is one of the most present teams at the World Cup finals, with 14 appearances out of the 20 tournaments.

    The Moroccan team has rejoined the heroes who returned to the World tournament for the first time since 1998. “Finally, Morocco will be in Spain’s way towards reaching the group of sixteen,” wrote Spanish news outlet Marca after the World Cup final draw, which placed the Moroccan team in the same group as the Spanish team was placed (Group B).

    Calling Morocco “one of the traditional powers of Africa, which in recent times had lost relevance,” the Spanish sports site noted that the team has now regained its prestige, owing to the work done by their French coach, Herve Renard.

    The Frenchman played an eminent role in the Moroccan team’s qualification. The team also called on the most skilfull Moroccan international and local footballers, who did their utmost to defend their Moroccan jersey during the World Cup qualifiers.

    “Footballers have already accustomed to the European elite as [Mehdi] Benatia (Juventus), Achraf [Hakimi] (Real Madrid), [Nordin] Amrabat (Leganes) or [Younes] Belhanda (Galatasaray) will make the African team a complicated opponent for Lopetegui,” wrote Marca, referring to Julen Lopetegui, a former Spanish footballer and current manager of Spanish national football team.

    Lopetegui said that Spain will face “one of the most toughest teams, including the Moroccan team who excluded the Ivorian team in the World Cup qualifiers.”

    These footballers are one of the best Moroccan players, who scored many goals and mezmorized their supporters with great performances during the qualifiers along with other footballers, including Hakim, Ziyech, Nabil Dirar, Faycal Fajr, and Khalid Boutaib.

    Mustapha Hadji, former Moroccan football legend and currently the team’s assistant coach, said that the Moroccan team was placed in a “deadly group.” Hadji, who was present during the Moscow’s draw, told Moroccan radio station Mars that “[the Moroccan team] has its say during the first match, we have to negotiate it,” adding that this match will “condition the remaining course of Morocco in the World Cup.”

    “After Iran, we will manage match by match,” said the former legend. “We have our chance, we have our card to play.”

    This will be the fifth time Morocco will participate in the World Cup, after previously playing in 1970, 1986, 1994, and 1998.

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