Stern test for Atlas Lions in Group F opener

Stern test for Atlas Lions in Group F opener
CAF President Patrice Motsepe during the 2022 FIFA World Cup CAF President Patrice Motsepe visits Morocco at Wyndham Grand Doha West Bay Beach in Doha, Qatar on 21 November 2022. ©BackpagePix

by Graeme Jackson

Tuesday Nov 22, 2022. 13:49

A stern test lies ahead for Morocco as they take on Croatia in the Group F opener at the 2022 World Cup, set for the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday 23 November, kick-off at 12:00 CAT.

Taking on the last World Cup’s runners-up is a daunting task first up, but the Atlas Lions – who are appearing in their sixth global tournament and looking to improve on a group stage exit four years ago – must make a strong start if they are to progress from a group which also includes Canada and Belgium.

Both teams come into the match in fine form: Morocco racked up a 3-0 friendly win over Georgia in a friendly last Thursday, while Croatia beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in their final warm-up last Wednesday to bring their winning streak to five successive matches.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui is quietly confident in his team’s chances of progressing from what he readily admits is a difficult group.

“As I said in the press conference, I’m not here to find excuses,” he explained. “Our goal is to do our best in the World Cup and make our fans proud.”

He added, “If we get past the group stage, a feat we have only achieved once, in 1986, then it could be regarded as a successful campaign.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, meanwhile, has identified this match against the North Africans as the vital clash in their campaign.

“The boys are aware of everything that awaits them, the first game against Morocco is the key to everything,” said Dalic.

In head-to-head stats, Morocco and Croatia have met in just one previous international match: a friendly in December 1996 which ended in a 2-2 draw. The Atlas Lions have a record of P12 W2 D5 L5 against European opposition at the World Cup, while the Blazers have twice faced African opponents at the tournament and won both matches.

The other Group F match on Wednesday is the late kick-off at 21:00 CAT and sees Belgium take on Canada at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

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