Exciting, talented, and resolute: How Morocco lit up the World Cup
Morocco went through to the Round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup for the second time in history after beating Canada 2-1 on Thursday, leading to them topping Group F.
Impressively, they did so in a group that also contained Croatia and Belgium, finalists and semi-finalists of the 2018 World Cup respectively. While they aren't the only nation to provide an upset in this remarkable edition of the World Cup, with the likes of Japan and South Korea also making it through against all odds, they have definitely been one of the nicest to watch in the tournament.
The Atlas Lions are now poised to play Spain in the Round of 16, and while they will still be massive underdogs, they will go into the game full of confidence, especially after being defensively resolute against both Croatia and Belgium, recording sensational clean sheets against both.
Morocco are thus the only Arab country out of four to make it through to the knockout stages in this year's World Cup, and it is the first time since 1986 that the North African nation got through the group.
Speaking after the game, Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who was appointed just three months ago, said "We said we wanted to give everything we've got to get out of the group stages. We can tick that box now. So why not aim for the sky?"
"We needed to change and we needed to change our mentality. We're not going to stop here. We've got a lot of respect for all of the different opponents, but we are going to be a very difficult to beat," he added.
Their solidity in defence has been a major factor throughout the tournament so far, particularly with Bono in goal, and the likes of Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss, Achraf Hakimi, and Noussair Mazraoui in defence, being part of a team that is finely balanced both going forward, and at the back. Morocco have been very good defensively for a while though, as prior to the Canada game, they hadn't conceded a goal in six games, with a goal last finding their net back in June during the qualification of the Africa Cup of Nations in a 2-1 win against South Africa.
However, they also have plenty of talent in other areas of the pitch, with one of the standout stars being Fiorentina midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, who has worked tirelessly in the middle of the park for Morocco. On average every game, he has racked up an impressive 1.7 interceptions, 2 tackles, and 1.7 clearances, ranking highly in each of these stats among the rest of the team (via WhoScored). It will be interesting to see how he, and fellow midfielders Abdelhamid Sabiri and Azzedine Ounahi fare against Spain's highly praised, and very fluid midfield of Gavi, Pedri, and Sergio Busquets.
Given they have scored an impressive four goals in three games, Morocco could be in with a shout at going through to the Quarter Finals, especially against a Spain side that has just come off the back of a disappointing 2-1 loss against Japan.
Morocco have entertained so far in this World Cup, but if they maintain the fine run of form they had in the group stages, they are definitely going to put up a great fight against Spain.