The Atlas Lions of Morocco or more officially known as The Lions of the Atlas qualified for the 2018 World Cup group stage in resounding fashion. The Moroccans qualified from a tough group that included Gabon, Ivory Coast and Mali without conceding a single goal. It is the first time that the Atlas Lions would be making an appearance at the World Cup in 20 years.
The Moroccans won the 1976 African Cup of Nations and made their World Cup debut in Mexico ‘70. The Atlas Lions however had their best outing at the World Cup in Mexico ’86. They made it to the second round after becoming the first African side to win a World Cup group.
They finished top of their group which had England, Portugal and Poland. They also lost narrowly to eventual winners West Germany and played the kind of football that all the spectators would never forget. However, Morocco has not replicated that world cup performance; in fact they had only qualified for two competitions after that in which they did not proceed to the second round.
The Atlas Lions have been drawn in Group B for the 2018 World Cup group stage. The group is going to be tough to progress from as it has European superpowers; Spain and Portugal, and Iran. All the supporters and well wishers of the Atlas Lions would hope that their resolute defence would be able to keep out the attacking forces of the Europeans and would fancy a chance against the Iranians to keep the hope of the second round alive.
The Atlas Lions are managed by Harve Renard. Renard is a popular figure in the memories of African football fans. Few can remember him on the touchline as Ghana’s assistant coach under the tutelage of Claude Le Roy. However, he shot to African limelight after he led the Chipolopolo of Zambia to their first ever AFCON title. He also repeated the feat with the Elephants of Ivory Coast just two years later. His fantastic style of coaching and his understanding of African football led to his appointment as the head coach of the Atlas Lions in 2016. In 2017, he led the Atlas Lions to the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
Atlas Lions to watch out for
The biggest name on the team sheet has to be that of the Captain of the team, Mehdi Benatia. The Juventus defender played a vital role both on and off the pitch as they secured qualification without conceding a single goal. However, the player most likely to lift the stands is Hakim Ziyech. The Ajax Amsterdam man was voted as the Dutch Player of the Season by his colleagues because of his attacking prowess and passing ability.
I deem it important to point out that the Moroccan fans are perhaps the most passionate set of fans going to Russia. The fans chant vigorously and come dressed up like actual lions. It would not be surprising to see one or two red flares when the Atlas Lions take to the pitch. The ability of the Moroccan fans to motivate their players and intimidate the opposition would play a role on how well the Atlas Lions perform in Russia.
Morocco’s World Cup 2018 Squad
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)
Morocco’s World Cup 2018 fixtures
- Iran: Friday, June 15 at 4pm
- Portugal: Wednesday, June 20 at 1pm
- Spain: Monday, June 25 at 7pm