MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) been bagging sacks of winners at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. Next on his hit-list is Group C's encounter between Morocco and Togo.
Morocco v Togo | Monday 19:00 | Eurosport
There are many myths in football – the league table doesn’t lie is one. And on a similar side, results don’t always tell you the full story.
Never was this more apparent than Morocco’s opening loss against DR Congo. The Atlas Lions were rarely troubled, dominated possession and territory and out-shot the Leopards 15-4.
The Congolese were barely able to string two passes together with Herve Renard’s team pressing high. But only two of those efforts were on-target and Morocco failed to make their pressure count. To make matters worse, a defensive error allowed DR Congo to pinch a goal and hold out for the victory.
The Atlas Lions hit the bar through Mbark Boussoufa and Youssef El-Arabi wasted two good headed opportunities, putting the Moroccans under intense pressure heading into their second fixture.
Morocco missing their match winners
A win is required in order to keep their chances of reaching the knockout stages alive. Renard – a two-time winner of the competition – has been set a target of at least making the quarter-finals and the head coach must be wondering what might have been should Younes Belhanda, Sofiane Boufal or Nordin Amrabat been fit enough to participate.
The Morocco boss wasn’t set on his first XI or system ahead of their opener but he opted for a 5-4-1 formation – an approach not too dissimilar to the one that proved to be useful when he steered Ivory Coast to victory in 2015.
Medhi Benatia, Manuel Da Costa and Romain Saiss were the three men at the back and with Boussoufa and Karim El Ahmadi operating just in front of the defence, plus young Hamza Mendyl marauding down the left, Morocco were calm, collected and largely impressive.
But will Renard be able to find tactical supremacy against his mentor and close friend Claude Le Roy on Friday night? Veteran Le Roy engineered a deserved 0-0 draw for his new Togo team against pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast and his supreme organisational skills can never be discounted.
Captained by veteran striker Emmanuel Adebayor, the Sparrow Hawks put in a solid shift at the back and looked dangerous on the counter-attack against Ivory Coast. Mathieu Dossevi was a constant menace down the flanks and could easily have stolen the points.
Neither team were particularly fluent in possession – not helped by a poor pitch – but should Togo pick up where they left off, they’ll be solid opponents for a Moroccan side desperate to clinch a vital victory.
Sure, Togo have only W1-D4-L6 in their last AFCON outings – failing to even score on seven occasions. However, there’s a real feel-good factor in the camp and everyone’s pulling in the same direction – unusual for an African side at a major tournament.
Morocco are a fraction under even-money but again I’m favouring a two-pronged attack by backing the draw (23/10 William Hill) and Morocco to win by exactly one goal (12/5 Coral). Using Oddschecker’s ditching calculator will help us ensure profit is made should either selection bank.
Morocco v Togo – Draw (23/10 William Hill)
Morocco v Togo – Morocco to win by exactly one goal (12/5 Coral)