Qualified: 1st in Group C, 3-3-0, 12 points
Manager: Herve Renard
Best Finish: Round of 16, 1986
Last Appearance: 1998, 3rd place
Strengths: Their manager, Herve Renard, has done a masterful job in creating a cohesive unit. He’s brought them back from virtual oblivion on the world stage.
Weaknesses: Their goalkeepers. The first-choice keeper Munir el Kajoui Mohamedi has all of four appearances for his club side this season (Numancia, Spanish 2nd Division).
Who was left behind: Sofiane Boufal (Southampton).
Analysis: Renard is leading a Moroccan team that is comprised of 60% foreign born players—mainly from France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Outside of qualifying for the first time in 20 years, the manager has been able to create a solid backline led by Mehdi Benatia (Juventus). The Atlas Lions kept a clean sheet through qualifying—albeit they only played six games, less than their other Group B opponents. That said one of the big question marks will be in goal, as the preferred starter has spent much of his club season on the bench.
In the midfield, the Moroccans will rely on a trio of veterans Younes Belhanda (Galatasary), M’Barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), and Nordin Amrabat (Leganes) to provide some composure and leadership. Meanwhile, Renard and company will lean on Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) to provide the creative spark necessary to break down their opponents. Look for Ziyech and Amrabat to switch wings often throughout the game to change up the points of attack.
Khaled Boutaib (Boutaib) will likely be the lone target player on offense.
Morocco plays a more adventurous style than any of the other teams in the group. Where Iran and Portugal play a more direct style focusing on counter attacks and Spain plays a game that relies on a series of short passes to create opportunities, the Moroccans tend to emphasize taking defenders 1v1 and creating opportunities for 1-2 passes on the edge of the box. They like to cross from closer the end line rather than further out like Portugal. Boutaib or Belhanda will try to combine with Ziyech or Amrabat to create chances in the attacking third.
How to beat them: Because they like to take the ball deeper into their attacking third, they’re likely exposed to the quick counter attack. Teams should get players behind the ball and make efforts to not leave other defenders exposed in a 1v1 situation.
Iran’s Chances: Iran’s manager, Carlos Quieroz, has been working on a high press during some of the friendlies. I’m not certain he’ll employ the pressing tactic all too often versus the Altas Lions. They’ll likely work to stay behind the ball to mitigate any 1v1 situations. Luckily, Iran is fairly adept at creating chances on the counter. It’s a must win for both teams, so I’m certain it’ll be exciting.
Possible Moroccan Starting 11: From the Guardian. Based on what I read, this isn’t likely to change. Fayçal Fajr (Getafe) will likely be one of the first off the bench, especially if they need a spark.