Will Coach Hervé Renard’s boys regain momentum after the disaster of their failed opener against Iran? Will they keep afloat the renaissance that Moroccan football has been enjoying? Moroccans started wondering as soon as the final whistle of the Iran game made it clear that the Atlas Lions had lost, with an own goal, to the squad that was expected to finish at the bottom of Group B.
Morocco dominated the game against Iran. The Atlas Lions kept possession, tried to organize, and attempted a number of shots on target. However, they lacked the finishes and character that marked their successful round of pre-World Cup warm-ups.
In the Iran match, there was a woeful lack of communication between the midfield and the attack. The inaccuracy of passes and lack of harmony and inventiveness had nothing in common with the excellent team that Hervé Renard has built in his two years of tenure.
Defeat against Iran, given the quality at Morocco’s disposal, was unbearable.
“It was the worst thing that could have happened in injury time. We can only blame ourselves. We gave away a free-kick, and then we scored against our own team,” Renard said.
“Even a draw would have been disappointing,” Renard went on to say. His side’s recent performances had won the confidence and admiration of many; expectations were high for the team to deny either Portugal or Spain a qualifying spot.
But they are not losing hope. “Moroccan football team is not dead,” attacking midfielder Fayçal Fajr said ahead of the match with Portugal. He added: “We know it will be difficult, but we will do everything to have a good result.”
Will Hervé Renard’s Boys deliver?
Watching the Sochi game between Spain and Portugal, one could see that the remaining group stage games will be excruciating for Morocco. The Atlas Lions are in trouble.
“I’m glad he is Portuguese,” Portuguese coach Fernando Santos said after Ronaldo’s magnificent hat-trick against Spain. Fernando Hiero, Spain’s new coach, stunned by the man whose performance had taken away a crucial victory for his first match as La Roja’s manager, echoed that sentiment: “When there is someone like Ronaldo out there, these things can happen.”
But in to Ronaldo, Portugal has a sharpness and decisiveness in its way of playing. The squad is a combination of direct attacking and a solid midfield. They do not keep the ball and their possession is not impressive, but they know how to be threatening once they have it.
Stopping that midfield-attack communication will be Morocco’s challenge against Portugal. And, of course, they will have to score, too.
Against Portugal, Morocco will need to regain and reclaim everything that they lacked in their opener: confidence, decisiveness, organization, passing accuracy, and a sense of clinical efficacy in front of the goal.
When playing against the likes of Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva, being good on the ball is not enough; playing well barely suffices. One has to be consistently excellent.
“Superman is only in cartoons. Nobody is a superman. What can happen once in a while is that a group of people when united, they can create super stories… Our attitude is to make the impossible possible,” Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz boasted after their win on June 15.
Queiroz explained that his strategy had been to “try to create a mental collapse in the Moroccan players… to frustrate and block their best players.”
Perhaps Morocco needs to do the same thing, adopt the same philosophy: frustrate the torchbearers of Portugal’s counterattacking machine. In addition to the tactical wherewithal that Morocco’s squad surely has, they will have the same advantage that Iran had against them: they are an underdog that Portugal may underestimate.