Rabat – Taking on Uzbekistan’s national squad in their second pre-World Cup warm-up, the Atlas Lions imposed their tactical superiority and gracefulness, culminating in a beautiful and well-deserved victory.
Morocco started the game with high intensity and an admirable winning mentality. From the very minutes, they pressed high and attacked eloquently. There was pace, determination, and resolution in the Atlas Lions’ tireless crosses and wide passes in the very first minutes of Tuesday’s clash. And so, quite unsurprisingly, the first goal came unbelievably early, at the third minute.
Morocco wins possession after pressing high. Amine Harit receives a pass of godly inspiration outside the Uzbek penalty area; he controls beautifully, eliminates three Uzbek players in an angelic flash of inspiration, and fires a bamboozling low strike that is denied by the Uzbek goalkeeper. And before the keeper can come back from his colossal efforts in phenomenally saving the Chalk O4’s man shoot, Yacine Bammou, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, crosses the ball inside the box; the low cross finds EL Kaabi right in front of the goal. And what did the CHAN man do?
What he always does, what has made him the rising star of Morocco’s Renaissance. Kaabi hammered the ball home, scoring a typical central striker goal that enraptured the thousands of fans at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca.
EL Kaabi’s goal gave Morocco the lead, boosted their confidence, and granted Hervé Renard’s boys the necessary energy to keep the momentum that they paraded in the first half hour of the match.
The game continued its course as Morocco imposed its supremacy in all the departments on the pitch. In the middle, despite some minimal errors—which is normal in a football game—Morocco’s flow was almost irreproachable in the first half.
For twenty minutes during the first thirty, Renard’s boys passing was a Greek mythology-like showpiece, an eye-catching exhibition of the ultimate artistic proportions, the epitome of tactical depth, collective harmony; it all seemed unmentionably euphoric: they’d learned their lesson after their unimpressive—by their own current standards—win against Serbia last week. Their improvement was unmistakable all throughout Tuesday’s match.
From the Atlas Lions’ downpour of crosses to their beautiful ball circulation, Uzbeks watched, clueless and helpless, their opponents overwhelm them. The only true danger for the visitors came at the 32nd minute, when the midfield put a quite elegant long pass in Morocco’s penalty area. But Morocco’s goalkeeper, Munir, was quick to deny the chance.
Ten minutes later, at the 42nd minute, after completely dominating the game, Morocco doubled the score line on a spotless corner accompanied by an equally immaculate Marouane da Costa header. 2-0 before before the break, and Moroccan fans could chant their joy; they could dream of, fantasize about, a beautiful summer in Russia!
The second half, for all its intensity and its glimmer of glamorous footballing masterpieces—Morocco could have easily scored a third and fourth goals—went goalless: it lacked the vibrancy and determination that characterized the first half. Uzbeks kept trying to make something happen, they pressed high; at times, they even had moments of picturesque ball possession, crowding the midfield and overpowering Morocco’s left and right backs. But their passes and crosses were laughably ineffective in front of the impermeable defensive citadel that Morocco displayed on Tuesday. Munir (the keeper) barely intervened in the game.
But while Hervé Renard’s boys did the job, what was required of them, the victory against Uzbekistan should not be the tree that conceals the forest: clear and ‘unmissable’ opportunities were missed, and you can’t afford wasting your opportunities in a deadly Group B this summer. The Atlas Lions were the better side against Uzbekistan, which justifies their well-deserved and laudable 2-0 against a team that shocked Senegal with a 2-2 draw last week. But, as Hervé Renard said ahead of Tuesday’s clash, they can—and have to—do better.
Prior to Morocco’s Tuesday match, Senegal’s legend El Hadj Diouf told the press that Morocco will, like Senegal at the FIFA 2002 World Cup, make Africa proud. Like his side in 2002, Diouf argued, Morocco can astound football fans, shock global footballing behemoths, “and make Africa proud.” “They will write history,” the Senegalese said, adding: “If the Moroccan players take confidence and tell themselves that they can write the history of African football [in Russia], they can do it…They’re a technical team, tactical, and they have a manager who they listen to… Frankly, I take my hat off for this team, they never give anything up.”
After the towering footballing masterwork that Renard and his squad gifted our eyes with against Uzbekistan (let’s be a bit indulgent about some negligible mistakes), I feel, for my part, more inclined to agree with Diouf: This outsider can be astounding this summer.