17:00 BST, Saturday 9th June, A. Le Coq Arena, (Tallinn, Estonia)
Morocco’s World Cup warm-up campaign concludes with a trip to Tallinn. This comes on the back of excursions to Geneva, Casablanca, and Torino where they faced the likes of Serbia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
That selection of games produced three wins and a draw for the African Nations’ champions to extend their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions. This will be their first ever meeting with the Estonians.
After a 20-year absence from FIFA’s elite tournament, Morocco have been drawn in a group containing Spain, Portugal, and Iran. As a result, they are odds-on not to qualify for the Round of 16.
Coach Herve Renard has toyed with 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations during his time in charge, and his team will often switch systems during games.
Meanwhile, Estonia enjoyed their most successful qualifying campaign ever, only losing 50% of their games and finishing fourth in a group of six. However, World Cup participation remains a distant dream for the Baltic nation.
Since 2016, they have been coached by Martin Reim who is also the nation’s most capped player with 157 appearances. He also holds the distinction of being the most capped footballer never to have featured at a major tournament.
The team often lines up with three or five at the back with four in the middle and a target man up front. This allows them to withdraw into a tight defensive unit with two banks of five and four against stronger opposition but switch to a more attacking 3-4-3 against weaker teams.
Last Time Out
Latvia 1-0 Estonia (Baltic Cup)
Estonia fell to a 70th minute Janis Ikaunieks goal in their recent Baltic Cup match against Latvia. It was a fairly even game but Reim’s men created the most chances with four shots on target to Latvia’s one.
Unfortunately, they could not convert and the home side lifted the trophy, drawing with Lithuania in the final game. It was the eighth game in a row involving Estonia to produce two goals or fewer.
Morocco 2-1 Slovakia (International Friendly)
Morocco came from behind to beat Slovakia in their World Cup warm-up match in Geneva on Monday night.
Jan Gregus put Slovakia ahead in the 59th minute before Ayoub El Kaabi came off the bench to level the scores just five minutes later. Younes Belhanda fired home the winner with 15 minutes still on the clock.
Morocco dominated the first half but could not make the breakthrough. They were punished when Gregus struck just before the hour mark, a goal that put their unbeaten run in danger.
However, Herve Renard reacted quickly, bringing on El Kaabi, who immediately put his side level with a close-range header. El Kaabi was key to Morocco's victorious African Nations Championship campaign during which he scored a record nine goals but is not a guaranteed starter in Russia.
Belhanda sealed the win with a superb piece of skill, controlling the ball on his chest before volleying home from outside the box.
This game offers Martin Reim a great chance to test his side against quality opposition so he may field a strong lineup. The question is whether they will be bold enough to take the game to Morocco or revert to a more defensive approach. Expect a variation on five at the back.
Renard's lineups can sometimes surprise, but there is no time left for experimentation now. A strong line up can be expected with the team taking up a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Key Battle: Mattias Kait (Estonia) vs Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Fulham midfielder Mattias Kait may be only 19 but he already has 15 caps for the national team. The two-time Estonian Young Footballer of the Year was the nation’s highest scorer during World Cup qualifying with four goals and could be a key player on Saturday - providing he is not rested.
A player tipped to light up the World Cup, Hakim Ziyech is Morocco’s man to watch in the midfield. The 25-year-old playmaker was born and bred in the Netherlands where he learned his craft and has already played in a Europa League final (2017).
He has been the Eredivisie’s top assist provider in four of the last five seasons and was crowned Dutch Footballer of the Year in 2018. He has netted eight times in 15 appearances for his country.
Goalkeeping conundrum for Morocco
Munir remains first choice goalkeeper for Morocco despite spending the season on the bench at Spanish second division side Numancia. This lack of action could cost the team when they step out against the likes of Spain and Portugal in Russia.
In contrast, Yassine Bounou spent the last season as first choice for La Liga side Girona, but has only been handed one start for the national team this term. The team selection on Saturday could give us an idea of who will get the final nod in Russia.
Prediction: Estonia 0-1 Morocco
Estonia might experiment a little in their last game before the UEFA Nations League begins in September while Morocco will look to finish their World Cup preparations on a high.
Morocco have the stronger side and arrive in Tallinn on the back of a 17-game unbeaten run. They have plenty of attacking talent and can put Estonia on the back foot from the start. However, they will want to avoid picking up any injuries and will have to manage the game accordingly.
Expect a one-sided game with Morocco dominating play and breaching the opposition defence at least once.
Who will win the clash at the A. Le Coq Arena? Let us know in the comments below.
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