19:00 BST, Sunday 4th June, Stade de Geneve (Geneva, Switzerland)
Morocco step up their World Cup preparations with a second warm-up match at Stade de Geneve this Sunday.
Herve Renard’s side drew 0-0 with Ukraine in a feisty affair in Switzerland on Thursday, with the coach keen to try out some new defensive tactics, with group games with Portugal and Spain in mind.
Hakim Ziyech struck the post for the Atlas Lions but they couldn’t find a winner in a game that saw some tough challenges fly in.
In Slovakia they face another European side that didn’t qualify for Russia, but are familiar with the finals, having qualified in 2010, reaching the round of 16.
Jan Kozak’s team were unlucky not to reach the playoffs in the European qualifiers, finishing as runners up to England, but missing out due to being statistically the worst second-placed side.
After drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands on Thursday night, Slovakia could provide a stern test to Morocco’s 16 match unbeaten streak.
Whilst normally considered a 4-2-3-1 side, Morocco have been experimenting with utilising three centre backs. Having had the conundrum of whether to start Romain Saiss or Manuel da Costa alongside Mehdi Benatia, a shift towards three at the back makes sense for Herve Renard to at least try – especially with tough group stage assignments with Spain and Portugal to come in Russia.
The attacking casualty in the side to make way for the extra centre back is likely to be either Nabil Dirar or Nordin Amrabat. With both capable of playing as a right wing back, it will be interesting to see who will get the nod if Morocco does use a back three in Russia – Amrabat would currently be the more likely.
Ziyech and Belhanda will provide the pace and craft to the attack.
Slovakia will look to build on a strong defensive unit as they enter their Nations League campaign in the autumn.
A solid partnership between Inter Milan centre back Milan Skriniar and the experienced Tomas Hubocan will be key. With veteran right back Peter Pekarik and Celta Vigo man Robert Mazan making up the combative back four.
Marek Hamsik is the undoubted star in this Slovakia side, with the Napoli midfielder crucial to everything good in their team.
Key Players: Hakim Ziyech (Morocco) vs Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
Ajax wide man Hakim Ziyech is widely regarded as one of the best players in the Eredivisie, and the key creator in this Morocco side. Combining pacey dribbling and excellent technique, Ziyech could cause the ageing Pekarik many problems down Slovakia’s right hand side.
Reuters/CIRO DE LUCA
Despite not having qualified for Russia, Slovakia will still back themselves as a decent side and if Marek Hamsik plays well they have every chance of upstaging the Moroccans. Hamsik is a player of such talent and versatility, Slovakia will rue the day he eventually hangs up his boots, with their star player about to turn 31 next month.
Will Renard play three centre backs in Russia?
A previous talking point would have been which of Romain Saiss or Manuel Da Costa would partner Mehdi Benatia in Morocco’s back four. Renard however, has thrown a spanner in the works by experimenting with a 3-4-2-1 in the buildup which would allow them to field all three.
Expected to get nothing against Spain and Portugal, Morocco will have to just hope they can contain their higher-profile opponents.
Who is the man to lead the line for Morocco?
This could be the chance for St Pauli forward Aziz Bouhaddouz to stake his claim to be the focal point ahead of the likes of Ziyech and Belhanda.
Morocco kept six clean sheets in the group stage of qualifying, but three of these were 0-0 draws. They will need to find a way to score against Iran on June 15 if they are to have any chance whatsoever of shocking the world and progressing to the round of 16 or beyond.
Does Adam Nemec have another campaign in him?
The veteran Slovakia striker has a very respectable 12 goals in 36 caps, but after being released by Dinamo Bucharest, can the 32-year-old really keep leading the line as Slovakia aim to qualify for the European Championships in 2020?
Having scored against the Netherlands on Thursday night, Nemec will be desperate to prove to his coach, and to potential suitors this summer, that he is still well capable at this level.
Prediction: Morocco 1-1 Slovakia
Expect a tight match with little between these sides. Neither could exactly be considered top heavy, but in Ziyech and Hamsik both possess players capable of unlocking defences, even if these defences will be tighter than most.
A draw seems like the most likely result.
Will Morocco have enough to get past Slovakia? Let us know below.
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