The Status Quo
With a conveyor belt of promising French-born and Dutch-born talent filtering through to the Moroccan team, these are promising times for Moroccan football. With a few more additions in the full squad, particularly in the backline, there is no reason why they can’t become one of the top teams in the world and start writing their names in history for the right reasons; relinquishing the tag as one of Africa’s ultimate bottlers.
Qualification for London 2012 was completed in a 3-2 semi-final win over Egypt in the CAF U-23 Championship (which they hosted), but, in typical Moroccan fashion, it was followed by a defeat in front of their own fans in the final to Gabon. Still, Morocco coach Pim Verbeek declared in the aftermath of the defeat that they would get their revenge at London 2012 by winning a medal. Right on.
How do they play?
The Maghrebians play in the omnipresent 4-2-3-1 formation, with their main danger being the pace of the front four and the fluid interchangeability between them that bamboozles opposition defenders. Morocco demolished the Egypt backline with their counter-attacks, centrally and down the wings, in the CAF U-23 Championship semi-final.
Houssine Kharja, who recently moved to Al Arabi, may have been nothing more than a workaday player in the Italian Serie A, but in Moroccan colours he evolves into a different animal. The 29-year-old was one of the few members of the Moroccan team who could have gone home with their head high after their early exit at the 2012 Cup of Nations – 3 goals to his name and some wonderful captain performances which showcased the tactical intelligence of a seasoned Serie A midfielder.
One to watch
Attacking midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada finished as the top scorer during the U-23 Championship with 3 goals. The Getafe man plays with the endeavour and studiousness that has forced Adel Taarabt out of the Morocco team. His performance a 2-0 win over Burkina Faso in February, which was his international debut, was exceptional; a refreshing contrast to Taarabt’s over-elaboration. Although he is an attacking midfielder, his willingness to help the team sees him drift to the left or right either to find the space and take on players, or to retrieve the ball. His allure lies in the way he combines a touch of productive flair with a willingness to sacrifice himself for the team.
The defending leaves a lot to be desired for, especially the protection in front of the defence, and a disequilibrium between attack and defence with leaves gaping holes in midfield. The inclusion of Houssine Kharja should go some way to establishing a structural balance, but the front four need to learn to drop deeper. There are also question marks on whether they can deal with muscle-bound targetmen; Gabon troubled them in the U-23 Championship final by punting long balls to their forwards.
Quarter-finals. Spain are the overwhelming favourites in the group, leaving the runners-up spot to Morocco, Japan and Honduras to fight out for. With the United Kingdom at the height of summer and the Moroccan players observing Ramadhan, it could be a tough task for them to get through.