Caitlin Dearing Scott
November 8, 2017
This Saturday is the big day for Morocco’s World Cup dreams as the Atlas Lions face off against Ivory Coast in Abidjan. Morocco comes into the match at the top of the Group C table – just one point above the Ivory Coast. In order to qualify for the World Cup, the Lions will need to win or draw.
It has already been a good week for Moroccan soccer, with Wydad Casablanca winning the CAF Champions League final 2-1 over Al-Ahly of Egypt last Saturday, becoming the first Moroccan side to win the club championship since 1999. Wydad Casablanca will represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and will kick off in the quarterfinals against Pachucha of Mexico on December 9.
The Kingdom is hoping that its football luck will continue on Saturday so that the nation can overcome a World Cup qualifying drought that dates to 1998. Morocco’s chances are good, as the Lions are experiencing a bit of a revival under coach Hervé Renard, who “has overseen the side’s return to prominence in the continental arena,” according to Ed Dove of ESPN. The Lions’ promise will be fully “realised this weekend if they avoid defeat against Renard’s former chargers in Abidjan…Couple that success with the domestic investment in the football infrastructure, the prominent role of national football president Fouzi Lekjaa within CAF, and the optimism surrounding a 2026 World Cup bid, and Morocco can begin to move on from two decades of underachievement.”
Be on the lookout Saturday for Morocco’s offensive performance – under Renard’s leadership, the squad has worked to move beyond its well-known “defensive resiliency” to improve and refine its offensive options. Dove says there are reasons for “optimism in abundance” in this regard, with several key players Renard can call upon in attack. But they will need to excel in order to beat the Elephants of the Ivory Coast, who have qualified for three consecutive World Cups.
The dream is nevertheless possible. As Dove writes, “Give Renard time, and he knows how to construct rugged, dogged sides who are tricky to beat. That was never in doubt with Morocco, but they’re now beginning to demonstrate that they have the kind of talent around the world that can not only lift them out of the doldrums, but also make them a significant threat in Russia. They just have to get there first…”