A World Cup for the Underdogs – FIFA 2022

A World Cup for the Underdogs
AL RAYYAN, QATAR - DECEMBER 06: Morocco players celebrates after the team's victory in the penalty shoot out during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Morocco and Spain at Education City Stadium on December 06, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar Image credit: Getty Images

We’ve seen quite a few underdogs rising up throughout the tournament. The likes of South Korea, Japan, and Australia certainly outperformed the expectations of jaded football fans on the biggest stage of all. 

Morocco being the first African nation to qualify for the semi-finals of a World Cup is no small feat. Just look at the mess that is the Uruguay and Ghana saga!

Walid Regragui’s Morocco has been a revelation at this year’s FIFA World Cup. Despite the loud support for the Moroccans, nobody expected such a strong team effort. Especially with only one goal conceded until the setback against the defending champions, France. Not only that, but this side had quite clear plans that netted a fourth-place finish, ahead of favourites like Brazil, Portugal, England, and quite a few others.

Let’s take a look into some of the details of Morocco’s historic journey to fourth place in the FIFA World Cup:

Is Morroco a one-trick pony?

Let’s start by eradicating prejudice. Together, Morocco plays defence as a solid unit. Regragui prioritises a block that is quite compact, yet have a look at the area behind it. It’s to their credit that their opponents don’t exploit it.

The space between the centre backs and the front is only 19 metres. That makes it impossible for them to filter inside and confines them together so they can only go a short distance. Additionally, it makes it possible to continuously jump inside to cover a pass and force a back pass.

Defensive Football is Not Artless

Morocco is not a passive team; therefore, let’s dispel that myth. They have a very active defence. The significance of first-line jumps; jump and cover back before returning. All players must be active when the ball moves inside to reduce hazards.

This progression is AMAZING. Every coach would want that out of a middle block. They continually leap over the possessor in a staggered fashion, never losing height. They can cover pass to the rear by observing the jumping trajectories.

The best part about the examples above is how carefully they handle each step. It’s a sickly sort of order. Your partner observes you as you jump and pivot. They decide a person to be aggressive toward and don’t think twice about sticking their leg in.

It’s like poking your hand in a piranha-infested pond. Another one that should be commended is the one against Spain.

Even the air cannot pass between the two lines due to their close proximity. So that the centre-back is not needed to move, the interior makes a jumping gesture and covers the back. Zyiech sounds the horn as soon as the ball touches down on the wing.

What if the jumper’s back is accidentally discovered? What a surprise! It’s fascinating to observe how they restrict room in the centre lane and change the plan so that the possessor has little time or space.

The best—or least-discussed—feature of Morocco is its capacity to instigate deadly events under pressure. Regragui possesses the ability to break down any block.

There is just one thing to remember when under pressure: don’t let it affect you. Come together and move forward.

The role swap (Ounahi/Achraf) and the quest for the third man. Gathering to clear space on the other side. What a marvel!

The right-wing, which includes Achraf, Ziyech, and Ounahi, functions like a Swiss watch. They join quickly, always occupy space well, and have the ability to drive.

Yet another instalment starring the same characters. Recovery and determining where to go next. As Ounahi receives, assists, and breaks behind the player who jumps to press.

Take a look at this one, where they activate after a rebound. Ziyech is a sight to behold. Not to mention Amrabat’s reluctance to get it out of his clutches in his own area. Instead, he wants to advance.

The Goal Against Portugal

BUILDING play from the back and advancing with the goal of closing in. That is what made the goal possible.

Ounahi is the common thread once more. As he receives, holds, and filters information. Amrabat is the first passer, while Ziyech arrives inside. Finally, the reward!

Final Thoughts

In football, it is important to adjust to the strengths of your team as much as it is to counteract the opponents’. The people who claim that what Morocco achieved with such a solid defence is anti-football only do so because they have very little idea about what it takes to play this sport successfully. 

Despite the heavyweight clash between France and Argentina in the finals, this World Cup was truly one for the underdogs, ala Morocco. As people keep saying, “The streets will never forget.”

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  • Shadman

    Shadman enjoys looking at football through the lens of tactics. He likes discussing all the technicalities of football and the complications that come with said technicalities.

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