Carefree Morocco can play into Spain's hands and other key tactics ahead of Group B's deciding day

Matt Jones 24/06/2018
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Spain take on Morocco in their final Group B encounter at the World Cup, with La Roja requiring a point in order to confirm passage to the knockout rounds of the tournament.

Morocco, meanwhile, may be heading home, but that won’t stop the Atlas Lions from trying to exit the tournament with a roar rather than a whimper.

Here, we analyse the key tactical talking points ahead of the game.

 

A MATCH OF STYLES

Iran v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Even though they’re in a commanding position to qualify from the group and their opponents are already out of the tournament, don’t expect Fernando Hierro to overload his team with changes.

Spain have not lost a game since they were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Italy, and are unbeaten in their last 22 matches – they won’t want that to change.

Morocco may be out but the Atlas Lions will want to leave Russia with pride, so expect them to come out and give Spain a game and play exactly how they have done in the previous two games – with plenty of style and flair.

Morocco coach Herve Renard has already said his team will go all out in their final showcase and aim to “finish with flying colours” though their desire to try and match Spain could play right into the hands of La Roja.

With the exciting array of talent the African side have at their disposal, like Hakim Ziyech, and attack-minded full-backs in Achraf Hakimi and Nabil Dirar, Morocco troubled Portugal no end but they will likely leave plenty of space for Spain to attack at the back.

Spain faced an aerial bombardment in their hard-fought 1-0 win over Iran, with 20 battles won in all in the air (Gerard Pique triumphing in eight alone). Against Portugal they only won 11.

Morocco will let their feet do the talking, which will be music to Spain’s ears.

 

ATLAS LIONS WILL ROAR ONCE MORE

Portugal v Morocco: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Morocco have a case to put forward for being the unluckiest team in the tournament so far; they dominated Iran in their opener and bombarded European champions Portugal – but only have two 1-0 defeats to show for it.

They enjoyed a 67.8 to 32.2 per cent domination over Team Melli in possession and completed 81 per cent of their passes compared to Iran’s 51. They also bossed both categories (45.3 to 54.7 per cent possession and 72-76 per cent pass success) against Portugal, and rained down 15 shots on Rui Patricio’s goal compared to 10 from their opponents as they surged back after threatening to capitulate when falling 1-0 behind early on.

They have proven already that no matter who the opponent, they will play their expansive, attacking game, with every player on the field, bar the goalkeeper, getting involved.

Watford winger Nordin Amrabat, in danger of missing out against Portugal due to a concussion suffered in the opening game, started and epitomised Morocco’s tenacity this tournament. He tore Raphael Guerreiro to shreds as he embarked on six dribbles – the most of any Atlas Lion and two fewer than the entire Portugal team.

Morocco have fired in more shots than their opponents in each of their last six World Cup defeats (Portugal and Iran 2018; Brazil 1998; Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Belgium in 1994), so expect them to have another crack at Spain in Kaliningrad.

TWEAKING THE FORMATION

Koke

With Spain likely to find themselves in a match with a side that, like themselves, play attractive football, you can expect Hierro to introduce a tweak in formation, with a possible return to the easier on the eye 4-2-3-1 we saw against Portugal in their explosive World Cup opener.

To combat the height and defensive nous of Iran, the former Real Madrid defender opted to shore up his XI and leave no holes for the number one ranked side in Asia to exploit, lining his side up in a more rigid 4-1-4-1 when not in possession.

Expect Sergio Busquets, who screened the defence superbly against Team Melli, to get some creative assistance this time around in order to counteract Morocco’s more natural attacking instincts.

Despite their narrow victory they did struggle to break down stubborn Iran, with Diego Costa’s goal a fortuitous one.

Atletico Madrid’s Koke was kept on the bench in Kazan, with Hierro opting instead for the pace and industry of Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez. But Koke should return here alongside the Barcelona lynchpin.

Another option for Hierro could be to rest the legs of veterans Andres Iniesta or David Silva and bring in Real starlet Marco Asensio to add further panache.

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Joachim Low praises Germany stars for not losing their nerve against Sweden

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Going for the World Cup double: Joachim Low.

Germany coach Joachim Low praised his players for keeping their nerve during a “roller coaster ride” as a late 2-1 win over Sweden reignited their World Cup hopes.

The defending champions’ chances of making the knockout stages looked slim as, after Marco Reus’ goal cancelled out Marcus Berg’s opener, Jerome Boateng was sent off for a second bookable offence.

However, Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos scored deep into five minutes of added time to put them back on track in Group F.

“Something I did appreciate today is that we didn’t lose our nerves and break out in panic after conceding a goal. We kept a level head,” said Low, who revealed midfielder Sebastian Rudy broke his nose after being accidentally caught by a boot in the first half.

“We never lost hope. Obviously the goal we scored in stoppage time was a bit lucky but it is always a result of our belief in ourselves.

“I was very pleased for him (Kroos) because he was involved in the mistake which led to Sweden’s goal.

“Of course this was a thriller, full of emotions and a roller coaster ride right up to the final whistle.

“We have to play against South Korea in order to be sure we make it to the next round and then everything is open, we will take it as it comes.”

Germany’s wild celebrations at Kroos’ winner were criticised by Sweden coach Janne Andersson, who felt he and his backroom staff were disrespected.

“Some of the Germany leaders on the team celebrated by running in our direction and rubbing it into our faces by making gestures,” he said.

“That really got me really annoyed and angry. There were many people on our bench who were very annoyed.

“People behaved in ways that you don’t do.”

However, Low played down suggestions their actions had been inflammatory.

“I didn’t see any aggressive gestures directed at the Swedish bench at all,” he added.

“I didn’t witness that because after the final whistle we fell into each others’ arms and hugged each other we were so elated.”

Andersson was also unhappy his side were not awarded a penalty early in the first half when Boateng appeared to catch Berg as he ran through on goal.

Polish referee Szymon Marciniak was in no mood to either award a spot-kick or consult VAR and the Sweden boss felt that was a mistake.

“I’m not going to cast any blame – I haven’t watched the situation myself – I can only refer you to the people on our team who have said this is a clear penalty,” he said.

“If we had got that penalty awarded that is possibly what we might have needed to cope with a team like Germany.

“If we have this (VAR) system it is is unfortunate he (Marciniak) feels so secure in the live situation he doesn’t go and have a look.”

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Robert Lewandowski vs Radamel Falcao headline the key player battles in Poland's World Cup clash against Colombia

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Lewandowski and Falcao will take centre stage on Sunday.

Poland and Colombia both go into Sunday’s face-off needing a win to kick-start their respective World Cup campaigns.

The two Group H favourites both lost their opening games, making their meeting a near must-win clash for both sides, and the players will want to step up and take on that responsibility.

Here are the key player battles which will determine the game.

Robert Lewandowski vs Radamel Falcao

Lewandowski had a poor performance against Senegal in Poland’s loss. He had fewer touches of the ball than the Senegal goalkeeper, and rarely got into position to be a real threat for his side. Poland’s playmakers were nullified, which had an impact on Lewandowski’s display, but he needs to step it up to save his country’s World Cup hopes.

In contrast, Falcao’s only failure in Colombia’s loss to Japan was that he fell just short of being brilliant. He led the line admirably considering his side were down to 10 men only three minutes into the game. It was his work that earned the free-kick from which Colombia scored their goal, typical of his display in that game.

Jakub Blaszczykowski vs James Rodriguez

Blaszczykowski was another whose performance was sub-par in the loss to Senegal. Tasked with being one of the creative forces for his side, he offered neither incisive passing nor threatening running down the flanks. His waning pace is a factor in the latter case, but he can provide better inter-play with his team-mates and better service for Lewandowski.

James was unable to start for Colombia against Japan as he was carrying a calf injury, and although he looked lively after coming on as a second-half substitute, he had little real impact. But he’s likely to start on Sunday, and he knows the responsibility of leading his team to victory, and saving their World Cup hopes, lies with him.

Lukasz Piszczek vs Santiago Arias

The Borussia Dortmund right-back put in an awful display against Senegal, looking overrun by the opposition attack and not providing enough thrust going forward. His defensive shakiness is something Colombia will target, James especially as he likes drifting out to the wings. If Piszczek can’t hit the levels he finds often for his club, Poland will be in trouble.

Santiago Arias delivered a fighting performance as part of a back-line put under extra pressure by the early red card to midfielder Carlos Sanchez against Japan. His attacking impact was limited, but he defended well for the most part, although it was he who was beaten for Japan’s winner. He’ll want to atone for that error on Sunday.

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