Morocco in Fine Shape Ahead of Their First World Cup Appearance Since 1998

Morocco in Fine Shape Ahead of Their First World Cup Appearance Since 1998
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Published November 29th, 2017 - 20:56 GMT via

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Morocco national football team
Morocco national football team

Exceptional team spirit has been at the heart of all Herve Renard’s successes as a coach. He masterminded one of football’s greatest underdog stories by lifting the African Nations Cup with Zambia and three years later ended Ivory Coast’s perennial underachievement by winning the trophy again.

Now it is Morocco reaping the fruits of Renard’s famed motivation after he guided the Atlas Lions to their first World Cup since 1998.

Ivorian Salamon Kalou recently compared his former coach to Jose Mourinho and it’s easy to see why. The relationships Renard forges with his players seem unbreakable; they lay everything on the line for their leader.

It is attitude rather than ability that has been key to Morocco’s return to football’s top table.

Renard has brought together a group of talented individuals — notably recruiting from the Moroccan diaspora in France, Holland and Spain — and created a collective to be reckoned with. There is no question this is the strongest national team assembled in a generation.

At the 1998 World Cup, Mustapha Hadji, Youssef Chippo and Noureddine Naybet were among the familiar faces to turn out for the Atlas Lions but that team fell short, coming third in their group behind Norway and eventual runners-up Brazil. Then, as now, they had a Frenchman — Henri Michel — at the helm and then, as now, they went into the tournament on the back of club success in the CAF Champions. In 1997 it was Raja Casablanca who were kings of the continent; in 2017, Wydad Casablanca flew the Moroccan flag with aplomb.

After Wydad’s success, coupled with a prodigious national team squad and a qualification campaign in which the previously imperious Ivory Coast were vanquished, expectations have risen dramatically.

It did not look so rosy 12 months ago. With two 0-0 draws from the opening two games, there were already murmurings of discontent. Had Renard’s magic touch worn off? Given Morocco had seen 11 coaches leave in 11 years leading up to the Frenchman’s appointment, speculation about his future was unsurprisingly rife. But the notoriously trigger-happy Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) demonstrated some rare restraint. Now, they are being rewarded for that show of faith. When he leads Morocco at next year’s World Cup, Renard will be the longest-serving Atlas Lions coach since Ezzaki Badou’s first reign ended in 2005.

Renard and Morocco recovered from those opening two draws, the 6-0 thrashing of Mali in the third match a pivotal moment. Everything finally came together as defensive stability and irresistible attacking play were in perfect union.

The six goals were shared between players born in Holland, Spain and France but the fans didn’t care. Their birthplace didn’t matter because they were giving their all for Morocco.

A surprising stalemate followed in the return match in Mali but a 3-0 defeat of Gabon — in which Khalid Boutaïb’s hat-trick underlined his importance — set up a grandstand finish in Abidjan. Renard’s charges showed remarkable temperament in that decisive game, the 2-0 victory over Ivory Coast providing a perfect exclamation point on the campaign.

The mental toughness of this group should leave Renard and Morocco feeling hopeful for the World Cup. No-one is expecting the Frenchman to achieve another miracle but advancing from the group stage should be the minimum target for Morocco’s ambitious coach and his players.

Copyright: Arab News © 2017 All rights reserved.

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