TEAM PROFILE: Morocco’s Atlas Lions ready to roar and create shocks at World Cup

Maintaining their defensive solidity will be key to whether the side can make the knockout rounds.
Updated 14 June 2018
0

TEAM PROFILE: Morocco’s Atlas Lions ready to roar and create shocks at World Cup

  • Atlas lions are at their first World Cup for 20 years.
  • Placed in a tough group including Spain and Portugal, there is hope they can get to second round.

The side may not be as heralded as Egypt, and they may have been placed in the tough group containing Spain, Portugal and Iran, but of all the Arab sides it is perhaps Morocco who have the best chance of making a statement in Russia.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

Placed in a group with Ivory Coast, a side that had qualified for the past three World Cups, meant it was never going to be an easy group to escape from. But the Atlas Lions roared and made it to Russia without losing a match. Three wins and three draws meant they easily qualified and did so with some style securing their pace with a 2-0 win away in Ivory Coast.

MANAGER

Morocco were without a World Cup appearance in nearly 20 years and in the doldrums when Herve Renard turned up. But since he took his place in the dugout in early 2016 the fortunes of the Atlas Lions have taken a turn for the better. The Frenchman made the side more solid, and very tough to beat, as their current run of 18 games unbeaten illustrates. That run includes matches against fellow World Cup hopefuls Serbia, Nigeria, South Korea and Egypt. Only Belgium (19) and Spain (20) have a better record going into the tournament.

TACTICS

Renard is likely to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation, switching from 4-4-2 in defensive phases to 4-3-3 in attack. It is highly flexible and plays to the side’s strengths as well as the manager’s safety-first approach. There is a steel to the side. They may have been thrown into a tough group — European heavyweights Spain and Portugal, with the opener against Iran — but they still should not be dismissed as likely second-round participants. The team is packed full of experienced players, including the Dutch-born quintet of Mbark Boussoufa‚ Karim El Ahmadi‚ Hakim Ziyech and the Amrabat brothers – Nordin and Sofyan – who are all likely to feature heavily in the side. With the likes of Juventus’ Medhi Benatia and Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi also likely to start and it is clear that there is class to add to the experience and steel.

KEY MAN
Defensive solidity has never really been a problem for Morocco under Renard, so the big factor likely to determine if they can shock either Spain or Portugal is whether they can marry that safety-first approach with the ability to turn their counterattacks into goals. They will likely play with just one up front for long periods and the man tasked with finding the back of the net is Khalid Boutaib. He hit a hat-trick against Gabon in qualifying, and while opposition defenses in Russia will provide a much sterner test, the 31-year-old is determined to make his late start to international football (he only has 20 caps) count.

WORLD CUP HISTORY

This is the fifth time the Atlas Lions have made it to the World Cup, their best performance coming in 1986 when they got out of a group including England, Portugal and Poland to make it to the second round.
Their last appearance came 20 years ago, when even an impressive 3-0 win over Scotland and draw with Norway was not enough to see them make it to the knockout stages.

STRENGTHS

Only conceded one goal in qualifying and the defense will again be key to whether they can shock in Russia. If they can maintain that solidity then anything is possible. Victory against Iran on Friday is viewed as a must.

WEAKNESSES

It is hard to see how they are going to trouble oppositions defenses enough to put rivals on the back foot.


NBA fracas, Jose Mourinho's antics prove action needed to prevent rise of violence in sport

Updated 22 October 2018
0

NBA fracas, Jose Mourinho's antics prove action needed to prevent rise of violence in sport

  • In LeBron James’ home debut for the Lakers, he ended up playing peacemaker, not play-maker
  • Sport stars are extremely wealthy individuals and the vast majority of fines issued by sporting governing bodies are a drop in the ocean

LONDON: The NBA has become one of the most popular competitions in the world in recent years, with the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James becoming global superstars.
As a product it is slick, glamorous and boasts celebrity fans, from the rap world to Hollywood royalty.
But the glitzy facade was shattered on Saturday when the Lakers-Rockets game descended into chaos, with both teams getting caught up in an ugly melee. Someone claimed to be spat on, punches were thrown, and three players had to be ejected from the game as the unruliness spilled over into the crowd.
In LeBron James’ home debut for the Lakers, he ended up playing peacemaker, not play-maker. Afterwards, no one was talking about his performance or the fact his team lost again. The result seemed almost irrelevant.
That fracas came hours after tension on the touchline in the Chelsea vs. Manchester United Premier League clash saw United boss Jose Mourinho lose his cool and need to be restrained in an ill-tempered scuffle with a Chelsea coach. And earlier this month, the hotly anticipated MMA match-up between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor witnessed disgraceful scenes as both fighters got involved in fights with each other’s coaching teams in the aftermath of the bout.
Unwarranted violence and aggression are becoming commonplace in sport, and yet it seems to be tolerated more and more.
What will happen in these cases?
Likely a short suspension here, a nominal fine there. Certainly less than the repercussions would be if similar behavior occurred on the streets away from sporting arenas.

Sport stars are extremely wealthy individuals and the vast majority of fines issued by sporting governing bodies are a drop in the ocean. Likewise, weeks-long suspensions seem scant punishment for actions that would see most other people fired.

Top-level sportspeople are also role-models to millions of people. What sort of message does it send to young people striving to reach the top of their chosen sport when they see those already there appearing to be given a free rein to behave inappropriately with impunity? Sport has enormous power in society, and means a lot to many people. It should be setting an example.
As such, it is about time sporting authorities started handing out punishments that fit the transgressions: Banning individuals for months and years rather than weeks, or issuing fines to the tune of a whole season’s wage. Firms must pull out of multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals instantly.
Nobody balked at the year-long bans for cricketers Steve Smith and David Warner for ball-tampering earlier this year. It was welcomed.
It may seem an overreaction, but something has to be done to deter the sort of behavior seen at the Staples Center, Stamford Bridge or in Las Vegas for the good of professional sport.