Morocco are coming and my scepticism of Portugal
At Russia 2018 i think that Morocco have a great chance of making it out of their group. Group B , deemed the group of death of this tournament, consists of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Iran. It doesn’t take a football genius to work out who the favourites are here. However, time and time again we see the underdogs, who have all freedom and no weight on their shoulders, glide past some of the heavyweights carrying the burden of their countries pressure and high standards with them. For example, take the mere Costa Rica in the 2014 world cup, breezing to the top of their group with Uruguay, Italy and England scavenging for points in the hope of qualification. Take Denmark and Senegal at the 2002 world cup, both qualifying ahead of France and Uruguay.
Although, there are two things missing here, who will be knocked out instead of Morocco and why have they got a chance? Firstly, lets assess the Morocco team and their recent results. They go into the world cup unbeaten in an entire year (15 matches) and have overcome the likes of Serbia and the Ivory Coast. You may think that they are “rookies and unexperienced” but their Africa cup of Nations victory in February silences that doubt. One of the great strengths of Herve Renards side is their immense versatility. Countless times in qualifying we have seen them cleverly adapt to best fit their opponents. The likes of El Ahmadi, Boussoufa and Boufal are talented, effective players who can perform in multiple positions, making Morocco’s midfield and attack unpredictable and full of flair. Defensively, they are very compact and Medhi Benatia and Manuel da Costa are two very solid defenders. Watch out for Morocco.
On to who i think won’t qualify; Portugal. When we think of Portugal at the world cup this summer the stereotypical picture is Cristiano Ronaldo labouring through the matches, dragging his team on behind and, once again, his country’s faith. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that this isn’t true. When Ronaldo is taken out of the equation, who actually have Portugal got? Yes, they have the likes of Andre Silva,attacker, Premier League winner with Manchester City this season. Yes, they have Nelson Semedo and Pepe at the back, Semedo winning the league with Barcelona and Pepe coming 2nd with Fernabache. But is that really enough to keep out the likes of Morata, Isco, Costa and Silva? And is it enough to break down the wall of Pique, Ramos and De Gea? Im not so sure. You may be thinking,”well how did Portugal win the Euro’s two years ago then”. I am not blatantly calling it a fluke but it certainly didn’t go down as one of the most pretty performances by a champion.
Firstly, they were extremely poor in the group stage, finishing below Iceland and Hungary in what was a huge embarrassment to the nation. They then advanced as one of the “best losers” to the round of 16. Croatia were the opponents and they nicked it in extra time to win 1-0. Although, lets face it; they were dominated. Croatia had 13 attempts on target to their 3, they hit the bar and had more possession. In short, Croatia were by far the superior team. The next game brought Poland, who they only managed to beat on penalties. On came the semi-finals and with it brought a naive, inexperienced Wales team in their first ever Euro’s and Portugal prevailed with ease. In the final, after an unimpressive tournament, they faced France, the favourites, the hosts, and although not their worst performance they were once again overpowered. France had 18 attempts to their 9 and more possession. However, they stole a goal of France in Extra-Time and went home European Champions. In compilation, Portugal’s lacklustre performances resulted in the popular opinion that they were in fact ‘lucky’ and that their success ‘undeserved’. In retrospect, I partly agree with this as they were visibly under par for the majority of the tournament. However, their resilience to hang in there until the dying moments was admirable and should not be overlooked. Although, the concept of them maintaining this at the World Cup, the biggest stage of them all, makes me extremely sceptical. Whats more, if Ronaldo gets injured or for some reason can’t play, then their chances of repeating it nears impossible. They also may be in for a huge shock when they face a disciplined, diligent and in-form Morocco side.