As we countdown to Russia 2018, we take a look at all 32 teams and suggest a reason to back them. With 30 days to the big kick-off it is the turn of Morocco.


Morocco comfortably qualified for Russia 2018, topping a strong African qualifying group featuring Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali.

But they are currently fighting a far bigger World Cup battle, going up against the combined might of the United States of America, Canada and Mexico for the right to host the 2026 tournament.

The north west African country bid for the 2010 tournament, but lost out to South Africa, though they are hoping to become just the second nation from the continent to host the competition.

On first glance, they seem to have little chance going up against the whole of North America, but they remain quietly confident.

Two things that they have on their side are size and price – Morocco is far smaller than America, Canada and Mexico, meaning travel will be easier and it’ll be cheaper too.

But back to World Cup 2018 and French man Herve Renard’s team are up against it having been drawn in Group B alongside European heavyweights Portugal and Spain, with Iran making up the rest of the pool.

This is the FIFA 40th ranked side’s fifth crack at the World Cup and their older fans will be looking back fondly at Mexico 1986, when they enjoyed their best campaign.

Morocco coach Herve Renard issues instructions from the sideline

Way back then, 32 years ago, they beat a Portugal side that had just two seasons previously made a European Championship semi-final and topped their group ahead of England and Poland. They went on to lose in the round of 16 to eventual finalists West Germany.

They went through qualifying for Russia unbeaten, winning three and drawing three and finishing on 12 points – four clear of group favourites Ivory Coast. The most remarkable stat is that they didn’t concede a goal in six games.

They beat Mali 6-0, but they do generally struggle to score – they managed just five more goals in their five other qualifying games.

Renard is an experienced manager, having led Zambia (2012) and Ivory Coast to African Cup of Nations titles, though it appears he will have his work cut out to get Morocco into the knock-out rounds.

His star player is Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia and Premier League fans might be familiar with Karim El Ahmadi from his days with Aston Villa. The 32-year-old was a key part of Feyenoord’s Dutch title winning side last season.

Morocco's Amine Harit in a recent friendly against Uzbekistan 

The squad is made up of home born players along with groups born in France and the Netherlands. The relationship between the three hasn’t always been easy, but, for now, at least, they all appear to be pulling in the one direction.

They start off their Group B campaign against Iran, which will give them a decent chance of getting points  on the board before they take on European champions Portugal and then Spain.

They haven’t been at a World Cup since France 1998. Twenty years ago they only missed out on qualification to the second round by a point following a defeat to defending champions Brazil, a 2-2 draw with Norway and a shock 3-0 win over Scotland.

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

Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus, Italy), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir, Turkey), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid, Spain), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France);

Midfielders: M'bark Boussoufa (Al Jazira, UAE), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen, France), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray, Turkey), Faycal Fajr (Getafe, Spain), Amine Harit (Schalke, Germany);

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

You can follow the FIFA World Cup from 14 June with RTÉ. Live blogs of every game on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, with 56 games live on RTÉ television and all 64 games available on the RTÉ Player.