Only a few days are left for the most significant football event of the quadrennial calendar to begin. It is, in fact, a highly significant experience for Morocco which waited 20 years to return to a World Cup. And for the Moroccan fans that are holding their breath and hoping that this time coach Hervé Renard will inspire the team to one of the greatest campaigns in the Atlas Lions history.
Moroccan media and football experts shook hands on the final list of the 23 players to play in Russia. “I think they all deserved their spots following a successful qualifying campaign. Apart from Southampton’s midfielder Soufiane Boufal who is left out for lacking competitiveness, and Mehdi Carcela who comes back thanks to his major role in helping Standard Liege to second place in the Belgian league, there was no surprise in Renard’s list.” says El Hassane Jabiri a broadcast sport journalist at Medi1 Radio.
“One can, indeed, feel that this squad is ready and that the balance of the team is good, although the problem of the left flank of the defence still persists. It’s true that Lille’s defender, Hamza Mendyl, could play this role but I think the team is still lacking a left-back specialist”.
At the moment the French coach is trying to put the final touches to the physical condition and the mental strength of his squad.”After their long season playing for their clubs, I believe the players have got sufficient time to recover. The only source of concern could be injuries happening; we all know that injury is footballer’s worst enemy. But the team seems to be in good form” El Hassan Jabiri Says.
This news is also confirmed by Yassine Omari, a prominent journalist who had the chance to chat with every single player from the Moroccan National team through his TV program ‘We are all Lions’.
“Things are shaping up well. All players are very excited by the chance to represent Morocco and they are ready to generate positive momentum for the team in Russia” says Yassine Omari.
“It is a young group, with some high-level senior players. All the ingredients are there to perform a good tournament: You have got the pride, team character, personality, positivity, optimism, and a great leadership. I just have the feeling that this team is able to achieve what 1986 Moroccan National team has realised in Mexico. I think they are able to reach the second tour and bring that joy back to the Moroccan streets”
At the same time, there is a call to be realistic. “To play the World Cup after such a long wait is certainly a big source of joy. We are optimistic but we also need to be realistic” says Hicham Ramram, a journalist and football expert who on the sideline, witnessed the best qualification games and moments which made the Moroccan National Team return to the FIFA World Cup.
“There are strong national teams in this tournament, and we have even got Portugal and Spain in our group. They will fancy themselves to go all the way in the competition and probably win the trophy. We have also got Iran, the best side in the Asian Footballing Confederation. On the other side, we have high expectation from this team. A respectable participation in this World Cup would be to qualify to the second round and match what the legendary 1986 team has reached.”
In several respects things are looking promising for the North African nation which started its team concentration which includes warm-up fixtures against Ukraine, Slovakia and Estonia, before they kickoff in the group stage by facing Iran, Portugal and Spain in Group B.
By Simo Aragroug, London based Moroccan journalist and a veteran of many sporting events across the globe