World Cup 2018: The value in backing steadfast Morocco this summer
Having run the rule over Uruguay, Ben McAleer turns his attention to African giants and possible last-16 opponents Morocco and he's found plenty of trade potential in the Atlas Lions...
"With a navigable route to the quarter-finals, there’s no reason why Morocco can't thrive in Russia."
On the face off it, Group B at the World Cup is easy to predict. Spain, as one of the tournament favourites, are expected to progress at a canter, while Portugal, in theory, should secure their spot in the next round of Russia 2018 with ease. However, while the European Champions are one of the favourites to progress, along with Spain, they struggled in France two years ago, despite success.
A Seleção failed to win a match inside 90 minutes at Euro 2016 and having drawn every group game on their path to success, it remains to be seen whether lightning will strike twice this summer.
Their odds to progress from Group B are anything but favourable and with Spain first up next week, it could prove to be that defeat dents their chances of progression. Opponents Morocco and Iran face one another earlier in the day and they'll be looking to capitalise on Spain's meeting with Portugal to increase their chances of a spot in the last-16.
Iran may have the personnel to test any opponent, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun the stand out attackers in Carlos Queiroz's side, but Morocco are worth a look in this summer. Managed by Herve Renard, the Atlas Lions were the only side that didn't concede a goal in the final group round of qualifying of all those at the World Cup.
The best defence is a good defence
Despite coming up against Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali, Morocco remained steadfast to secure their place in Russia this summer. Marshalled by captain and Juventus centre-back Medhi Benatia, Renard's side landed their World Cup place with relative ease. While some may say that the best defence is a good offence, it couldn't be further from the truth for Morocco, who scored six of their 11 group stage goals in a solitary home win over Mali back in September.
Their success is built on a solid backline, which can then break forward at speed. Wolves man Romain Saiss features alongside Benatia in defence, with his range of long passing able to set Morocco on the front foot. Indeed, his return of 5.6 accurate long balls per game was one of the highest returns of outfielders in the Championship last season and the ability to transition from defence to attack in the blink of an eye will upset opponents this summer.
Hakim Ziyech is the star man in the final third for Morocco and for good reason too. He registered more assists (15) than any other player in the Eredivisie last season, and chipped in with an additional nine goals, and he was the only player to make in excess of 100 key passes in the top tier of Dutch football, having created a total of 142 goalscoring chances for his Ajax teammates. Nordin Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, fresh from his title success with Galatasaray, and Amine Harit are the additional attacking stars within the squad, with the trio all able to switch on the afterburners before bursting past opponents.
The value in Morocco
Harit in particular is one to keep an eye on, with the 20-year-old impressing in his debut season with Schalke. Only Kevin-Prince Boateng (95) was fouled more times than Harit (94) in the Bundesliga last season and coupled with Ziyceh's set-piece expertise, it could prove to be one of Morocco's more effective routes to goal. With a solid backline and ample attacking outlets, Morocco [4.4] to qualify from Group B is well worth backing on the Exchange ahead of the start of Russia 2018.
The runner-up from Group B will face the winner of Group A, which is likely to be Uruguay.
The South American giants are packed with talent in every position, but have their faults, like any side. They won only two of nine away games in qualifying and against such a staunch Morocco defence, could struggle, even with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez on the frontline. That being said, Morocco [12.5] to reach the quarter-finals could be a handy money maker on the Exchange, especially if they get off to a flying start against Iran next week and Portugal stumble against Spain.
The cash-out option could be your biggest alley here, especially if you back Morocco [46.0] to reach the semi-finals. Greece defended their way to success at Euro 2004 and it could be that the Atlas Lions do similar this summer.
With a navigable route to the quarter-finals, there's no reason why Rendard's side can't thrive in Russia. Morocco are one of the outsiders to finish the World Cup as the best African team [7.6] and with plenty of talent plying their trade in Europe's top leagues, the Atlas Lions are one to back on the Exchange as we edge closer towards the start of the World Cup.
Back Morocco to be the best African team at [7.6]