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Morocco World Cup 2018 profile: Ones to watch, best bets and more

All you need to know about Morocco ahead of the World Cup in Russia
All you need to know about Morocco ahead of the World Cup in Russia

Get the lowdown on Morocco's World Cup squad including their star men, ones to watch and best bets.

Morocco Factfile

Coach - Herve Renard: There can’t be many managers with a more varied CV than the current Morocco coach, with the Frenchman winning two African Nations Cups with Zambia and the Ivory Coast after also having a spell in charge of... Cambridge United!

Star man - Medhi Benatia: The Juventus defender has probably the best footballing CV in Moroccan football history, having also played for Roma and Bayern Munich and won league titles in both Germany and Italy. He scored a vital goal against the Ivory Coast in November and has over 50 caps for Morocco.

Legend - Larbi Benbarek: Benatia will go on to be his country's best player you'd expect, but Banbarek was a trailblazer as he became the first internationally successful African player after joining Marseille in 1938. The 'Black Pearl' also played in Spain for Atletico Madrid as he paved the way for other African footballers to follow.

Did you know? Just Fontaine, who scored the most goals in a single World Cup finals (13) was born in Marrakesh but played for France as his country was under French rule at the time. Morocco gained independence in 1956, two years before Fontaine's World Cup scoring feat for France.

Fun fact: Coach Herve Renard ran a cleaning business after retiring from playing football and before turning to coaching. The suave Frenchman also always favours wearing a crisp white shirt on the touchline.

Qualifying: Unexpectedly came through Group C of African qualifying as winners after beating Ivory Coast in a winner-takes-all clash on the final game of qualification. They came through the entire qualifying campaign without conceding a goal.

Group B fixtures: Iran (4pm, June 15, St Petersburg), Portugal (1pm, June 20, Moscow), Spain (7pm, June 25, Kaliningrad)

Morocco Squad

Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (LOSC)

Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke 04)

Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax).

Morocco Profile

Getting back in the World Cup after 20 years was a bit of a surprise for Morocco given a tough qualifying group, but Herve Renard's men came through on the back of some superb defending that saw their backline unbeaten in their six-game campaign.

Morocco fans
Morocco fans will be hoping for big things in the World Cup

Being drawn in the same group as Iberian rivals Spain and Portugal makes it a tough assignment but if their defending is as good as in qualifying they will at least present a challenge to the group's big guns.

Beating Ivory Coast to make Russia is no mean feat, and with the country bidding to host the World Cup the nation will be looking for them to put on a good showing.

Having appeared in four finals they will find it hard to match their best achievement of making the last six back in Mexico in 1986.

Who to watch out for

Mehdi Benatia will be the leader at the back alongside Wolves defender Romain Saiss, but it is in the attacking midfield area where Morocco may have a few players to spring a few surprises - most notably with Ajax forward Hakim Ziyech.

Ziyech is one of a number of players Morocco have convinced to play for them despite being born and raised outside of the country - the Netherlands in this case. Seven goals in 13 caps has proven the decision to get him to commit to them the correct one; he's quick, skilful and an obvious goal threat.

Full-back Achraf Hakimi, 19, has made his Real Madrid debut this season and may shine if given the chance, while Feyenoord's Sofyan Amrabat has followed Ziyech's lead in choosing Morocco over the Netherlands while Southampton fans will know Sofiane Boufal has more than a trick or two up his sleeve.

How did they qualify?

After being held at home by Ivory Coast, Morocco had just two points from two games, and perhaps Renard's biggest achievement was getting Ziyech to return to the squad after the player vowed not to play for them again following his omission from the African Nations Cup squad.

With Ziyech back in the fold, he scored twice in a 6-0 win over Mali that kickstarted their campaign and they headed to the Ivory Coast needing just a draw to go through. They made a real statement, however, winning 2-0 to book their place in Russia.

What will I hear when they play?

Football is not just the national game in Morocco, it's bordering on an addiction for the 33 million population who crave international success. During home games the sight and sound of thousands patriotically belting out their national anthem - The Cherifian Anthem - is as spine-tingling as it gets.

It may not catch on on the terraces but you may hear the odd fan playing Moroccan music artist Hatim Ammor's new single on their travels around Russia. He has released a music video to support the Atlas Lions called Viva Morocco to reflect the love of the beautiful game in the country.

Any interesting facts about Morocco?

Morocco are bidding to host the 2026 World Cup, competing against a joint bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States - a decision will be made on June 13.

Morocco is ruled by King Mohamed VI - or ‘His Majesty the King Mohammed the Sixth, Commander of the Faithful, may God grant him Victory’, to give him his full title. Guessing he just has Mohamed VI on the back of his football shirt.

The Karawan mosque in Fez is the oldest university in the world that is still in operation according to UNESCO. It was built in the the year 849 by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri.

Any famous football moments?

Just getting to the World Cup are huge achievements for Morocco, but by far their best effort to date came back in Mexico '86. After a 0-0 draw against Poland, they also kept Gary Lineker and company quiet in another stalemate against England.

Their 3-1 victory over Portugal was their first ever win at the finals and booked a spot in the last 16, where they lost 1-0 to eventual runners-up West Germany.

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