Morocco have underwhelmed at recent major tournaments and will face a difficult task if they are to advance past the group stage at the World Cup in Qatar.
This article was originally published on 20 September 2022
The North Africans have qualified for their second-successive World Cup and they will be seeking an improvement after failing to live up to expectations in Russia four years ago when they finished bottom of their group.
Underperforming at major tournaments has become a theme for Morocco, who fell at the quarter-final stage of this year's Africa Cup of Nations despite boasting one of the most talented squads on that continent.
A tough World Cup draw is likely to temper expectations heading into the finals, which may work in Morocco's favour, as they aim to reach the knockout stages of the global showpiece for only the second time.
They are 200/1 outsiders to become the first African nation to win the World Cup, while they are 10/1 to win their group.
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Walid Regragui announced his final 26-man squad for the Qatar World Cup on November 10:
This is the sixth World Cup Morocco have qualified for, with their first appearance coming in 1970 when they came close to causing a major upset against powerhouses West Germany.
The Atlas Lions have only once before made it through to the knockout stages of a World Cup, achieving that feat in 1986 when they topped their group ahead of England, Poland and Portugal before they were edged out again by West Germany in the last 16.
Morocco only picked up one point at the 2018 World Cup, failing to score as they lost their opening two matches 1-0 to Iran and Portugal, although they did earn a credible 2-2 draw with Spain in their final fixture.
Reaching the knockout stages is likely to be the aim for Morocco in Qatar and they can be backed at 2/1 to achieve that goal, while they are 4/11 to suffer another group stage exit.
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Morocco impressed in booking their place at the finals, winning all six of their group matches during the second round of CAF qualifying, before sealing a 5-2 aggregate success over DR Congo that confirmed their place in Qatar.
Since then, the Atlas Lions have beaten both South Africa and Liberia, but a 3-0 friendly defeat to fellow World Cup qualifiers the United States in June will have eased one or two concerns ahead of the finals.
It is fair to say Morocco have been handed a tough draw for the finals, as they have been pitted in Group F alongside 2018 finalists Croatia, the world's second highest-ranked nation Belgium and a Canada team riding on the crest of a wave after qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986.
First up for Morocco will be a clash with Croatia in Al Khor on 23rd November - a match they are priced at 3/1 to win, while their European counterparts are 10/11 and the draw is 12/5.
The Atlas Lions will then head to Doha to face Belgium four days later, while their final match will also be at the Al Thumama Stadium when they take on Canada on 1st December.
Experienced Bosnian Vadid Halilhodzic had been in charge of Morocco for three years and guided them successfully through qualification, only to then be replaced Walid Regragui.
The 46-year-old appeared 45 times for his country during his playing career, before turning his attention to coaching, where he has enjoyed success with Fath Union Sport, Al-Duhail and Wydad AC.
Regragui has led both FUS and Wydad to the Moroccan league title, while he also guided Al-Duhail to success in the Qatari Stars League in 2020 - but his greatest achievement may well be leading Wydad to CAF Champions League glory earlier this year.
For many Morocco's star player won't be at the World Cup, as Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech opted to retire from international football earlier this year following a falling out with Halilhodzic.
Ziyech's absence is a blow for Morocco, but they still have plenty of talent within their ranks, with their star man perhaps being Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri.
En-Nesyri was a scorer against Spain at the last World Cup and he has established himself as one of La Liga's top strikers since those finals.
Despite only being 25, En-Nesyri has made nearly 50 appearances for Morocco, scoring 14 goals, and the Atlas Lions will likely need him firing on all cylinders if they are to succeed in Qatar.
The former Leganes star is 100/1 to finish as the tournament's leading scorer.
Queens Park Rangers attacking midfielder Ilias Chair only made his Morocco debut last year, but following Ziyech's retirement, the 24-year-old could have a big role to play in Qatar.
Chair was directly involved in 14 goals for QPR in the Championship last term and he has established himself as a key figure at Loftus Road over the last three seasons.
The former Stevenage loanee will now be hoping to have a similar impact with Morocco, while some strong performances in Qatar could lead to interest in his services from clubs within Europe's top five leagues.
Morocco predicted line-up (4-5-1): Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss, Adam Masina; Sofyan Amrabat, Munir El Haddadi, Aymen Barkok, Selim Amallah, Ilias Chair; Youssef En-Nesyri.
Under Halilhodzic, Morocco tended to rotate between a 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 formation, with the latter likely to be their approach in Qatar given they will be underdogs heading into at least two of their three group matches.
En-Nesyri is expected to be the main focal point up front, with creativity coming from the likes of Chair, El Haddadi, Adel Taarabt and Sofiane Boufal, as well as marauding PSG right-back Hakimi.
Morocco have plenty of flair within their squad, as well as a strong defensive core in the shape of goalkeeper Bounou and centre-backs Aguerd and Saiss, but they have been handed a tough draw in Qatar.
Croatia and Belgium are both experts in reaching the knockout stages of major tournaments, while Canada were arguably the strongest team to come out of pot four.
The North Africans will be doing well to qualify from the group at odds of 2/1, especially given the change of coach so close to the tournament.