With seven days until the 2018 World Cup kicks off, Oddschecker have teamed up with WhoScored.com to pick out a surprise package that can replicate Costa Rica from four years ago and go deep in the knockout stages of the tournament and our tip is for Morocco to excel this summer.
Making their first appearance at a World Cup in 20 years, Morocco would have hoped for a more affordable group. Instead, the Atlas Lions will battle out for a top-two finish alongside pre-tournament favourites Spain, Euro 2016 winners Portugal and Iran.
Five countries from Africa qualified for this summer’s showpiece tournament, but Egypt have understandably attracted the bulk of the attention. Mohamed Salah is winning his race to be fit in time for Egypt’s group opener and will hope to carry on his dazzling goalscoring form from last season. The Liverpool forward finished the 2017/18 campaign as the Premier League’s top scorer and is priced as high as $61* to repeat the feat in Russia.
Egypt certainly have the means to progress from Group A, but Morocco should not be overlooked as the top performing African country, particularly with Herve Renard at the helm. As such, you can get odds of $8* for Morocco to finish as the top African team in Russia, and it should be considered.
Spain should not encounter any problems topping the group, which leaves Portugal, Morocco and Iran in a straight shootout for second. Portugal lifted the European Championship two years ago, but head coach Fernando Santos made some questionable selections when picking his 23-man squad for this tournament.
With Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, they always have a chance. The Real Madrid star is the fourth favourite to finish as the Golden Boot winner, priced as long as 16/1 with some bookmakers. However, it’s worth considering that four of the last six European winners have failed to make it out of the group stages in the subsequent World Cup.
A major caveat to that is on two occasions the European champion failed to qualify for the resulting World Cup, but it should not be dismissed nonetheless. Portugal didn’t set the world alight in France two years ago and haven’t made any significant progress since then to suggest they will here.
Meanwhile, Morocco have developed impressively. Renard is the only manager to win the Africa Cup of Nations with two different countries and has since become an iconic figure in African football. Not only that, but Morocco are the only team at the 2018 World Cup that did not concede a single goal in the final phase of qualification.
Finishing second in a World Cup group would usually set up a daunting knockout match against an international powerhouse, but that is not the case in this instance. Progression from Group B, depending on where you place, would set up a round of 16 clash from one of these four teams: Uruguay, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Beating Portugal and Iran to second in the group would likely mean Morocco face Uruguay in the next round of the competition and then potentially France after that. There are odds as long as $41* for Morocco to be eliminated in the quarter-finals and even $101 to reach the last four, if you fancy France to implode in another major tournament. With all things considered, Morocco could be the dark horse at the 2018 World Cup.