Thursday 07 December 2017, 08:13

Atlas Lions on the march

  • Morocco back at the World Cup following a 20-year absence

  • Atlas Lions have risen to their highest position in the FIFA Ranking since 2008

  • Head coach Herve Renard has masterminded the turnaround in fortunes

Saturday 11 November 2017 will go down as a special day in the history of Moroccan football. It was on this date that the Atlas Lions clinched their place at the FIFA World Cup™ after 20 years of frustration, thanks to a 2-0 win over Côte d’Ivoire.

The achievement also saw the Moroccan national team climb eight places in November’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, with the country currently occupying its highest position since 2008.

Morocco’s hot streak Morocco’s fine recent form owes much to the hard work put in under head coach Herve Renard, who took charge of the team following spells with Ghana, as assistant to Claude Le Roy, and Zambia. Renard is also a two-time winner of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, with both the Chipolopolo and Côte d’Ivoire.

This latest bounce in the ranking comes on the back of a series of impressive results, including a 6-0 win over Mali and a Khaled Boutaib-inspired triumph against Gabon. Then there was the aforementioned success away to Côte d’Ivoire, which booked Mehdi Benatia and his team-mates’ place at Russia 2018.

Three key results in the Russia 2018 qualification campaign

  • Morocco 6-0 Mali (1 September 2017)

  • Morocco 3-0 Gabon (7 October 2017)

  • Côte d’Ivoire 0-2 Morocco (11 November 2017)

In the aftermath of the victory over Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan, Renard said: "My main target with Morocco was to qualify for the World Cup. We were a long way off this level two years ago but, thanks to the rules that we’ve set and the good understanding between the players, we’ve managed to make real progress on the pitch."

Making a mark at the finals The French coach’s thoughts have now turned to the daunting challenge that lies ahead for the Atlas Lions in Russia. Morocco have been drawn in the same group as IR Iran, Portugal and Spain, and they know that more positive results will see them rise even further up the FIFA Ranking.

Following the draw in Moscow, Herve Renard told "After a 20-year absence, the Moroccan team has landed in a tricky group. We know that standards are high at the World Cup. We’re going to play against the European champions and Spain – who were the team to avoid from the second pot – not to mention Iran too."

"We need to focus on qualifying for the Round of 16, and to not be satisfied with simply taking part. In 1986, Morocco beat Portugal. We have to go into the tournament with determination and confidence."

Renard’s Morocco side have all the necessary tools to make a mark in Russia, including a resolute defence that did not concede a single goal in the final qualification round and a prolific attack that netted 11 times in six matches.

Morocco’s fixtures in Russia

  • Morocco-Iran (15 June, Saint Petersburg Stadium, 18:00 local time)

  • Portugal-Morocco (20 June, Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, 15:00 local time)

  • Spain-Morocco (25 June, Kaliningrad Stadium, 20:00 local time)