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2018 FIFA World Cup Group B Analysis: Morocco Could Make a Difference

With less than 81 days left to the kickoff of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Ducor Sports continue to provide analysis on each group with focus on African teams. As was done earlier in Group A with focus on the Pharaohs of Egypt, we will be looking at Group B where the Atlas Lions of Morocco are paired along with Portugal, Spain and Iran.

What chances do the Atlas Lions have to qualify for the last 16 or further advance, who are players to watch (as usual, subject to injuries), records between group members and who might be the surprise team- both for the better and the worse.

Group B is one of the toughest groups in the 2018 World Cup. With the likes of European champions, Portugal, 2010 world champions, Spain, Asian side Iran and Africa’s representative Morocco, many will consider Portugal and Spain as group winners, but Morocco could make a difference.

As usual, this series remains interactive, so feel free to go down to the comment section and let us know what you think about this group and who you think will make it to the last 16.


It has been 20 years since Morocco last participated in the FIFA World Cup with their best performance coming from the 1986 edition when they advanced to the second round. The North African nation showed genuine reasons while they are qualified to represent Africa at the world’s most prestigious football tournament after qualifying without conceding a goal, finishing top of Group C ahead of Ivory Coast, Gabonand Mali.

Fast forward after their World Cup qualification, the 2017 African Cup of Nations quarterfinalists again showed their strength in the African Nations Championship (CHAN). Comprising home-based Moroccan players, the Atlas Lions emerged champions of the tournament after thrashing Nigeria 4-0 in the final.

If a team made off local based players could perform to that extend what about them being paired with top professionals? Of course they played against other teams’ home-based players; however, they were by the same national team coach Herve Renard who knows how to draw his team. Unlike others, Renard’s team is not build around a single player. The French coach’s tactics have always being to build that defend when the need arises; employ an attacking formation when he needs victory. At the 2017 African Cup of Nations, the lack of more attacking options was one of the causes of the team exiting the biannual competition at the quarter-finals, however, that option has been boosted with Khalid Boutaib, Ayoub El Kaabi and Hakim Ziyech among others as attackers.

Recently, something that could serve as a source distraction to the teams World Cup preparation ensued–world cup selection saga. Mohcine Metouali, plying his trade in Qatar Stars’ League with Al Ryyan, alleged that coach Renard is selecting only players who bribed him. The Moroccan FA is likely to investigate the allegation. In the wake of this distraction, the Atlas Lions continue to demonstrate their class after a 2-1 win against Serbia in their weekend friendly and don’t look distracted.

Excluding Portugal, the Atlas Lions do not have a good record against the remaining opponents. Morocco last defeated Portugal 3-1 in the 1986 FIFA World Cup but lost two out of two against Spain and Iran, nonetheless, Renard and his boys look better prepared and determined and could make a difference in Group B by advancing to the latter stages of the World Cup.

Key player.

Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) – The midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that upsets PSG to win the French league title last season. He will be among the ones to watch in the Morocco side.


Herve Renard – The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. It will be a different playing field but he is a manager that knows how to put a good team together despite the talent pools.



With so much responsibility on Captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoulder, European champions Portugal look comfortable at the moment with their narrow and late minutes wins. It was the path that they thread to become European champions. The recent was in their friendly fixture against Egypt and Ronaldo proved significant after scoring two late goals.

Although this style of playing keeps working out for the Portuguese, it may not always be the case. If it continues, they may not be so lucky to escape the group stage.

This year’s edition of the World Cup will mark their 7th appearance. It will be an intriguing encounter when they kick off the campaign against Spain. Both teams last met during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with the Spanish seizing the day with a 1-0 win.

They go to Russia with an experienced squad that has been together for some time. They have an enforcer in Pepe, Jao Moutinho comes in to balance the midfield while new comer Andre Silva can support Ronaldo in attack.


Key players.  Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was but with age comes wisdom. He is always at the right place and can create a moment of brilliance from nothing.  Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Real Madrid for the rest of the season. Despite getting older, his current form is still unimaginable.


Coach: Fernando Santos – Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo.



Spain will be one tough opponent in the group. Their Tiki-taka style of play coupled with high pressing remains the driving force behind their success. Opponents find it difficult to break through the system from the initial stage which saw the 2010 World champions dominating European and world football from 2008-2013.

After failing to defend their World Cup title in 2014, and European Championship in 2016, the Spanish national team looked like a team on a decline despite having a star studded squad. Top rivals could boast to have discovered a system that can be break through counter attacks and similar high pressing that they do.

Nonetheless, the Spanish maintain the creativity and comprehensive understanding in the geometry of space on the football field and it will be tough match for them against Portugal and Morocco.

A managerial change in Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has however changed their fortunes. The 51-year-old took them through an unbeaten qualification campaign of 9 wins and one draw. They are now genuinely a team to fear and are big favorites heading to Russia.

With David de Gea in goal, Sergio Ramos and Gerald Pique anchoring its defense, there will be no worry of conceding simple goals. They also have a surplus pool of talent in the midfield and for once have two on form strikers in Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata to lead the line.

Key Player. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at going to Russia. The team captain adds a touch of flair, a golden pass and gives the side immeasurable experience.

Coach: Julen Lopetegui – The former goalkeeper has showed a rare understanding of tiki-taka football. The team is fluid moving forward and can control the game tempo at will.


Iran remain one of the most successful teams in Asia and have qualified for the World Cup on five different occasions ((1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, and 2018). They became the 3rd team to for the 2018 world cup. Despite qualifying for the global competition on several occasions, they are yet to deliver a good performance in the World Cup as the group stage remains their stopping point.

Shockingly, they have only won a single match in world Cup since their first appearance in 1978. With such record in the World Cup and their opponents in this group, there is no sign of coach Carlos Queiroz and his boys crossing the group stage of the 2018 World Cup.

Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) – Sardar Azmoun will be one player that put up individual brilliance for Iran during the competition. The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. He scored 11 goals in qualifying and may extend it to the group stage of the competition.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz – The veteran Portuguese coach will has been rebuilding his squad around young players since 2014 and promises they are not going to Russia as Tourists this year.

The Road to the Final.

Group B

June 15 – Morocco vs. Iran, 11 a.m., Saint Petersburg

June 15 – Portugal vs. Spain, 2 p.m., Sochi

June 20 – Portugal vs. Morocco, 8 a.m., Moscow

June 20 – Iran vs. Spain, 2 p.m., Kazan

June 25 – Spain vs. Morocco, 2 p.m., Kaliningrad

June 25 – Iran vs. Portugal, 2 p.m., Saransk

Round of 16

June 30 – Group C winner vs. Group D runner-up, 10 a.m.

June 30 – Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up, 2 p.m.

July 1 – Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up, 10 a.m.

July 1 – Group D winner vs. Group C runner-up, 2 p.m.

July 2 – Group E winner vs. Group F runner-up, 10 a.m.

July 2 – Group G winner vs. Group H runner-up, 2 p.m.

July 3 – Group F winner vs. Group E runner-up, 10 a.m.

July 3 – Group H winner vs. Group G runner-up, 2 p.m.


July 6 – C winner/D runner-up vs. A winner/B runner-up

July 6 – E winner/G runner-up vs. G winner/H runner-up

July 7 – B winner/A runner-up vs. D winner/C runner-up

July 7 – F winner/E runner-up vs. H winner/G runner-up


July 10 – Winners of July 6 matches

July 11 – Winners of July 7 matches

Third place playoff 

July 14 in Saint Petersburg


July 15 in Moscow

CO-AUTHHOR: Vicktor Akatwijuka

Featured Image: Getty

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