• Morocco: Moroccan king suspends country's sports minister

    RABAT, MOROCCO — The king of Morocco suspended the country's sports minister of his duties for the Club World Cup on Friday and ordered an investigation into the state of the soccer field at Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat after heavy rain disrupted a match.

    Last Saturday, players from Mexican club Cruz Azul and Australian team Western Sydney Wanderers were slipping and sliding through pools of water on the field after a heavy downpour.

    The international players' union asked FIFA for an investigation, describing the conditions as dangerous. Subsequent matches were moved to Marrakech.

    The state of the field has been seen as a national embarrassment after the entire complex had recently been upgraded at a cost of $25 million.

    The order by King Mohammed VI, which was issued in a palace statement carried by the state news agency, came after a week of uproar.

    Sports Minister Mohammed Ouzzine had faulted Spanish company Valtech for its work on the field. The company responded that it was a drainage issue and they had warned the field was not yet ready.

    Two of Ouzzine's deputies directly involved with the stadium were already suspended by the minister himself, who declined to attend a parliamentary hearing over the incident.

    The suspension also means Ouzzine will not attend the final match in Marrakech as planned. The minister will continue to perform his other duties, however.

    Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2014/12/19/3406200/moroccan-king-suspends-countrys.html?sp=/99/224/#storylink=cpy

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  • FIFA CWC: Seven clubs head to Morocco vying to be club champions of the world

    (ESPNFC) The Club World Cup pits the champions of the six continental confederations as well as the national league champions from Morocco -- the host country -- against one another in a week-long tournament.

    With the first game of the 2014 Club World Cup kicking off on Wednesday in Morocco, ESPN FC's Nick Ames takes a look at each of the teams vying to replace Bayern Munich as champions.

    MOGHREB TETOUAN

    How they qualified

    The Moroccan side qualified as the host team after winning a surprise league title in May -- only the second such success in their history. They pipped existing champions and last year's Moroccan representatives in this competition, Raja Casablanca, by three points on the final day of the season, despite losing to them 5-0 in one of their league meetings. But their form has not carried into the current campaign. Tetouan have not won in their past five games and sit in mid-table, which was a more natural position for the club before their first title in 2012.

    Coach: Aziz El Amri

    Coach of the Tetouan side since 2011, El Amri was charged with saving the club from relegation upon his appointment but has instead led a relatively unheralded club to previously uncharted heights. A devotee of tiki-taka who has honed an incisive, short-passing style, he has succeeded in bringing a large number of youngsters through without compromising success.

    Moghreb Tetouan's Mouhcine Iajour has experience playing in the Club World Cup, having faced Bayern Munich with Raja Casablanca last year.

    Star player: Mouhcine Iajour

    The striker arrived from Raja Casablanca this year and should settle into the Club World Cup instantly. He scored twice in last season's competition, with one of his goals coming in the semifinal win over Atletico Mineiro. The other arrived against Wednesday's opponents, Auckland City, and the Morocco international's experience could prove decisive when he faces the New Zealanders again.

    Hopes and prediction

    Out in quarterfinal playoff. Although El Amri has said he hopes to negotiate three hurdles en route to a final against Real Madrid, Moghreb are in poor form and newcomers to this stage. Auckland are not the most intimidating of opponents, and Moghreb will benefit from home advantage, but they do not look strong enough for a genuine challenge this time.

    AUCKLAND CITY

    How they qualified

    It was fairly predictably on the face of things -- winning the OFC Champions League for a fourth consecutive year. They did lose one of their group games -- they received a warning against tiny Amicale from Vanuatu -- but a 3-0 semifinal first leg win over Tahitian side Pirae rendered a 2-1 away reverse inconsequential.

    In the final, they came up against Amicale again and, duly chastened, won 3-2 on aggregate with two goals in the last 23 minutes of the second leg. It spared their blushes and prevented Amicale, whom they had also beaten in the 2011 final, from becoming perhaps the most obscure participants to date in the Club World Cup.

    Coach: Ramon Tribulietx

    Young Spanish coaches are all the rage, but Tribulietx, 42, has been with the club since 2008 and, after spells as assistant manager and co-manager, he took sole charge of Auckland City in 2011-12. Like Moghreb, his team plays a technical, attacking style of football honed during his time on the staff of several Segunda Division clubs back home. He was linked with the New Zealand national team job a year ago.

    Ramon Tribulietx's Auckland City have been OFC regional champions four times in a row. Will they be able to make an impression in Morocco?

    Star player: Emiliano Tade

    Like Auckland City, Tade is a veteran of this competition. The 26-year-old Argentine won the golden ball in last season's OFC Champions League after scoring the winner against Amicale with three minutes to play, and he was top scorer, with 12 goals in the domestic championship. He has little pedigree back home, having played for fourth-tier side Villa Mitre while studying law, but he moved to New Zealand in 2008 and would surely relish a semifinal with San Lorenzo if his team progressed that far.

    Hopes and prediction

    Quarterfinals. This will be Auckland City's fifth Club World Cup, with the highlight coming in 2009 when they defeated Al Ahly and TP Mazembe. They have not won a match since then but were only defeated in injury time by Raja Casablanca last year and have rarely been overrun. Their experience should prove decisive against Moghreb, but victory over ES Setif might just be a demand too many.

    WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS

    How they qualified

    The club is, remarkably, just two-and-a-half years old but they won the A-League in their second season and only last month qualified for the Club World Cup after a tense, tight AFC Champions League win over the Saudi side Al-Hilal. They had beaten a who's who of Asian football to get there and came through a tricky group before outdoing Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Guangzhou Evergrande and FC Seoul. That set up the final, in which the only goal was scored by striker Tomi Juric in the first leg to seal a dizzying rise.

    Coach: Tony Popovic

    Popovic is fairly well known to followers of the English game, thanks to his five years playing for Crystal Palace in the 2000s. He returned there to become Dougie Freedman's assistant in 2011-12 but left to become Wanderers' first head coach at the end of that season and, after they finished runners-up in his inaugural campaign, he was named A-League coach of the year.

    Ante Covic's heroics in the Asian Champions League belie his 39 years of age.

    Star player: Ante Covic

    The much-travelled goalkeeper is now 39, but since he joined from Melbourne Victory in 2012 he has looked stronger than ever. He was named the AFC Champions League's best player after his performances in this year's tournament, which culminated in two clean sheets in the final, and he looks in fine condition to continue playing into his fifth decade.

    Hopes and prediction

    Quarterfinals. The Wanderers' rise has been swift, but they have hit the buffers since winning the Champions League and are currently sitting bottom of the A-League with no wins from their first nine games. Matters were hardly helped several days before the Club World Cup, when the players threatened to boycott the competition over a dispute about the share of the club's prize money they will receive. They look set to play, but they won't be around for long.

    CRUZ AZUL

    How they qualified

    Cruz Azul won the CONCACAF Champions League last season after a 17-year drought, eventually winning out after tough ties against two of their compatriots. First, they beat Tijuana 2-1 on aggregate in the semifinals, with Julio Dominguez scoring the winner as they overturned a 1-0 deficit, and then Mariano Pavone's strike was enough to secure a win over Toluca on away goals after the teams had drawn 0-0 in Mexico City, where Cruz Azul are based. In the quarterfinals, the goals flowed when they beat Sporting Kansas City of MLS 5-1 in the second leg after going into it a goal behind.

    Coach: Luis Fernando Tena

    Tena is a veteran of the Mexican league and has managed Cruz Azul on three previous occasions -- he won the title in 1997 -- and also had a spell as caretaker coach of the national team last year, after previously being an assistant. He rejoined Cruz Azul in December 2013 and has already taken them to their first Club World Cup.

    Luis Fernando Tena has taken Cruz Azul to the Club World Cup before. Can he make history by winning it for the Mexican giants?

    Star player: Christian Gimenez

    The former Boca Juniors schemer was born in Argentina and represented his home country's under-20 team before becoming a Mexican citizen in 2013 and controversially receiving five caps for them. He has been a mainstay of the domestic league with Veracruz, America, Pachuca and, since 2010, Cruz Azul, for whom his flair, imagination and goal-scoring from the No. 10 position have been indispensable.

    Hopes and prediction

    Semifinals. They should have too much for the Western Sydney Wanderers, but Real Madrid will probably be too difficult in the last four, unless the European champions' concentration is not what it ought to be. The Mexicans are a fine outfit and might be considered the second-best team in this competition, but they can consider themselves unlucky to have landed on the wrong side of the draw.

    SAN LORENZO

    How they qualified

    The Copa Libertadores are a difficult beast, but after pulling up few trees in the group stage, the winners of Argentina's 2013 Inicial set to work with impressive wins over Brazilian teams Gremio (on penalties) and Cruzeiro before Bolivian side Bolivar were dispatched 5-1 in the semis.

    In the final, Mauro Matos gave them the lead away at the Paraguayan club Nacional. They conceded an equaliser at the death, but back in Buenos Aires, a Nestor Ortigoza penalty was enough to spark scenes of jubilation and give San Lorenzo their first Libertadores triumph.

    Coach: Edgardo Bauza

    Bauza has been around the block since finishing a respected playing career largely spent at Rosario Central. He made waves when leading unfancied Ecuadorian club LDU Quito to the Copa Libertadores title in 2008. They fared well in that winter's Club World Cup, too, and only lost in the final to a Wayne Rooney goal for Manchester United. He returned to LDU after a brief spell in Saudi Arabia, subsequently replaced Juan Antonio Pizzi a year ago and led San Lorenzo to their own continental silverware.

    Mario Yepes has been superb for Colombia but his lack of mobility is a concern vs. Brazil.

    Colombian Mario Yepes was the oldest outfield player at this year's World Cup. San Lorenzo will need the veteran to be at his very best to leave Morocco with the Club World Cup.

    Star player: Mario Yepes

    Time will tell as to the long-term wisdom of signing the 38-year-old Colombian, who was the World Cup's oldest outfield player during the summer, but the centre-back is still a class act and has helped the team to three clean sheets in its past four domestic outings. Yepes, who was playing in Serie A for Atalanta last season, will at the very least bring extensive experience of international tournaments to the fray in Morocco.

    Hopes and prediction

    Semifinals. It might be by a hair's breadth, but San Lorenzo will fall narrowly to ES Setif in the last four and leave Argentina stuck on two finalists in the competition's 11 editions. A showdown with Real Madrid will be expected back home, but that might have to wait for at least another year.

    ES SETIF

    How they qualified

    Competing in the CAF Champions League after winning their sixth Algerian title in 2012-13, ES Setif won their first continental title since 1988 in thrilling fashion. After coming through their group unbeaten, they faced Congolese giants TP Mazembe in the last four, and after going down 3-1 in a highly charged second leg, they won the tie on away goals when Sofiane Younes scored 15 minutes from the end.

    Another side from the Democratic Republic of Congo, AS Vita Club, awaited in the final, and the script was similar. A 2-2 draw away was followed by a Younes goal in Algeria -- in a second leg played at a larger stadium in Blida -- that, though canceled out that night, won out through the away-goals rule again.

    Coach: Kheireddine Madoui

    Madoui was an Algerian international midfielder who spent two spells with ES Setif and now, as manager, has already broken one record. He became the youngest coach to take a team to the final of an African continental tournament last season and, at 41 years old, there should be plenty more to come. Thought to have received lucrative offers from abroad, he instead signed a new, three-year contract with the club last month.

    Algerian champions ES Setif might be playing down their chances, but if they can show the same excellent play that won them the 2014 African Champions League, they have a strong title chance.

    Star player: El Hadi Belameiri

    Another scorer of crucial goals at continental level, Belameiri found the net six times during the Champions League success, though goals dried up in the knockout stages. He did, however, finish as the joint top scorer in the tournament, and the diminutive French-born forward, formerly of Metz, has been making sufficient waves to be linked with a call-up to Christian Gourcuff's much-favoured Algerian national side.

    Hopes and prediction

    Runners-up. Madoui has played down his team's chances by citing particular concerns about fatigue amid a hectic domestic schedule, but his team's stock has risen considerably in recent times, and he can be backed to lead ES, who fought a number of tough and tense matches in last season's Champions League to a final place on their debut. The conditions should help them, as should the fact that Algerian football is currently experiencing a boom.

    REAL MADRID

    How they qualified

    The win that sealed Real's qualification looks resounding enough -- a 4-1 win over deadly rivals Atletico in Lisbon -- but it would have been the other Madrid team preparing for Morocco, had Sergio Ramos not headed home deep into added time. Real ploughed on after that and overran their opponents to take their much-vaunted 10th European crown, with Gareth Bale nodding in the vital second before Marcelo and a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty added the gloss.

    If they had left it late, they could reflect they had already thrashed the reigning champions, Bayern Munich, 5-0 on aggregate in the semifinals just one round after overcoming 2014 runners-up Borussia Dortmund.

    Coach: Carlo Ancelotti

    Carlo Ancelotti might have been harshly sacked by both Juventus and Chelsea in the past but cannot really be said to have failed anywhere. One of his triumphs came in this competition seven years ago, when his AC Milan side beat Boca Juniors 4-2 in the final, held in Yokohama, and a repeat of the trick would add nicely to the three Champions Leagues he has also presided over (two with Milan, one with Real).

    Cristiano Ronaldo heads up Real Madrid's galacticos. Can he help Los Blancos add the Club World Cup to their collection of silverware?

    Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo

    There is little point in changing the record. The crowds in Rabat and Marrakech will be baying for Cristiano Ronaldo, and it is easy to see why, as the chances he will not put on a show appear slim. He has only failed to score in three of his 23 games for club and country this season and has atoned for any perceived deficiencies this might turn up by scoring 31 times.

    Hopes and prediction

    Winners. It is difficult to see Real not taking the trophy, with six of the past seven been won by European sides. They will be expecting nothing less and, even though James Rodriguez looks likely to miss out through injury, should have the resources to win both games without too much fuss.

    The caveat is sides from outside Europe perhaps have a touch more motivation to make an impact in this competition, and Real are certainly the side to target, but with anything approaching their usual level of focus, they should lift the trophy for the first time.

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  • Moroccan champions Moghreb Tetouan: Atletico's little brothers

    (ESPNFC) A year ago, Raja Casablanca made history and became the first FIFA Club World Cup hosts to reach the final, beating Auckland City, Monterrey and Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro on their way to an eventual defeat against Bayern Munich. If current Morocco champions Moghreb Tetouan follow suit and prevail against the very same Auckland City, African Champions League holders Setif of Algeria and Copa Libertadores winners San Lorenzo, they will most likely face Real Madrid in an extremely special final.

    It would be quite an achievement, but it would be even more special because Tetouan are very closely associated with Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Indeed, the club was established in 1922 by Atletico fans who lived in Morocco. In the early days it was known as Athletic Club Tetuan -- based on the Spanish spelling of the city -- and later, according to General Franco's demands, as Atletico Tetuan. That is why the team has always played in red and white stripes and blue shorts, just like the big brothers from Madrid they were supposed to emulate.

    Under Spanish protectorate, Tetuan were a part of the Spanish leagues for 33 years until independence was achieved in 1956. The highlight of that era was their surprising promotion to the Primera Division in 1951, and the club remain, to this very day, the only African team ever to play in a top division in Europe.

    That was a season to remember. Tetuan's away form was dreadful -- they lost 14 out of 15 games on their travels -- but on home soil in Morocco they were a force to be reckoned with. Atletico were thrashed 4-1 in a rather weird "derby," and six more wins were achieved, while the mighty Real Madrid could only draw 3-3 on their visit to North Africa. Sadly that wasn't enough as Tetuan finished bottom of the table and were relegated, but such heritage has never been forgotten.

    Following Morocco's independence, Atletico Tetuan split into two. While AD Ceuta FC, still under Spanish control, were the club's official successors, newly established Moghreb Athletic de Tetouan (Moghreb meaning Moroccan) kept the colours and made the logo as close as possible to that of Atletico Madrid. Indeed, their fans have always supported Los Colchoneros -- something of a rarity in a country that is mostly divided between Real and Barcelona.

    Atletico Madrid's trophies were the main source of joy for Tetouan supporters throughout the years -- their own team is rather small even by local Moroccan standards, having spent long spells in the second division -- while their relationship was cemented in 2007 as some of Atletico's upper management visited Morocco to establish a football school that would benefit both parties.

    Tetouan really began to move up the footballing pyramid in July 2011, though, when little known coach Aziz El Amri was appointed. His mission was to save the team from relegation, but he took them to their first ever championship title in 2012 -- a feat even more remarkable when you take into account that some of the senior players went on strike over unpaid wages, and Tetouan were forced to use inexperienced youngsters instead. On the final day, they needed just a draw at FUS Rabat and won 1-0 to seal the trophy. Around 30,000 fans travelled with the team -- the largest away crowd in Moroccan football history -- and the celebrations were something to behold.

    In context, 2012-13 was relatively mediocre, but last season Tetouan were back in the title race again, knowing that success would be especially important with a place in the 2014 Club World Cup at stake for the winners. By the end of May, a phenomenal prospect was on cards: Atletico Madrid had qualified for the Champions League final, while Tetouan were in pole position to win the Moroccan league. Could they meet in a historic game in December?

    It was not to be. First, Tetouan were thrashed 5-0 by Raja Casablanca in the big game on the penultimate day of the season, seemingly losing the crown. Then, on May 24, Atletico went agonisingly close to lifting the trophy, only for Sergio Ramos to equalize in the dying seconds and for city rivals Real Madrid to run away with the game in extra time. Tetouan fans were distraught, but just a few hours later, on May 25, they celebrated wildly as Raja sensationally lost in Safi on the final day, gifting the championship title to Moghreb.

    Moghreb Tetouan are the reigning champions of Morocco.

    The dream of facing Atletico was dead, but hopes of meeting "the other team from Madrid" were very much alive. In 2001, a friendly game had been scheduled between Moghreb Tetouan and Real to mark the 60th anniversary of that famous 3-3 draw in the Primera Division, only for the plans to be cancelled by Los Blancos due to some logistical problems. Now, 13 years later, there is a chance to play against them after all, on the biggest stage possible.

    Naturally, it won't be easy for the Moroccans to get to the final, but they shouldn't be underestimated, even though their league form is terrible of late, with just two points from the last five fixtures. The club has been preparing for the Club World Cup for half a year now and it could turn out to be the biggest tournament in their proud history.

    El Amri is very well respected in his country by now, admired not only for winning two league titles but also for bringing in an attractive style of play, built around ball possession and reminiscent of Barcelona's tiki-taka. The squad is inexperienced internationally, but a big signing was made to add some know-how in international striker Mouhcine Iajour, who starred for Raja at the tournament last year, scoring against Auckland and Atletico Mineiro.

    "I want to swap shirts with Cristiano Ronaldo," Iajour told FIFA earlier this week. That might not endear him to Atletico fans in Tetouan, but he is certainly motivated to lead the team to the final. Could they stage a revenge for Atletico Madrid's loss in May? Such a script sounds like it could be a work of fiction, but the whole history of this club is unique already.

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  • FIFA CWC: Hosts and Kiwi hopefuls braced for opener

    (FIFA.com) Moghreb Tetouan and Auckland City FC will get the ball rolling at the 11th FIFA Club World Cup on Wednesday. A shot at glory is the prize for the winners, while the losers go straight home.

    The match

    Moghreb Tetouan-Auckland City, Stade Moulay-Abdallah, Rabat, 10 December, 19.30 (local time)

    The tournament opener will give Moghreb Tetouan a chance to make it up to their supporters after winning only three of their first 11 matches in the Moroccan league and crashing out of the Coupe du Trone. Following Raja Casablanca’s impressive showing in last year’s competition, the pressure will be on Tetouan to impress in front of the home fans.

    Facing them will be an Auckland City side intent on reaching the quarters for only the second time in six attempts. The club’s Spanish coach Ramon Tribulietx, who has been in the post for four years, will be looking to former Everton man John Irving and compatriot Angel Berlanga to help Auckland break new ground.

    The stat

    3 - This is the third time that the New Zealanders have met an Arab team in the opening match of the FIFA Club World Cup. In 2009 they faced Dubai's Al Ahli and last year they came up against Raja Casablanca. If they see off Tetouan, they will take on another Arab outfit in the next round: ES Setif.

    The words

    “This team from New Zealand play a Latin type of game. They’re tactically sound and they know how to pass the ball. They’re good to watch and they’re sure to pose us a few problems.”

    Moghreb Tetouan coach Aziz El Amri

    “Playing at home is really going to motivate them. It’s going to be a tough task for us, but anything is possible in a cup tie.”

    Auckland City midfielder Tim Payne

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  • FIFA CWC: Naim - We can rise to the occasion

    (FIFA.com) Something of a late developer, Moghreb Tetouan striker Zouhair Naim had to wait until he was 27 before getting his first taste of Moroccan top flight football, which came with Raja Beni Mellal in 2012.

    It was the culmination of a childhood dream for the boy from Youssoufia, in southern Morocco, who in his younger years would skip gymnastics classes to pursue his passion for football, preferring to kick a ball around the streets with his friends than climb on to a pommel horse. In conversation with FIFA.com, the player reflected on the fulfilment of his long-cherished dream.

    “I went through some tough times, playing for teams in my neighbourhood, amateur clubs and lower-league sides before taking my place among the big boys," Naim said. "You have to put a lot of work in if you want to turn professional.”

    His big break came when Raja Beni Mellal, based in central Morocco, plucked him out of obscurity, having identified him as just the kind of player who could take them forward. Naim is grateful for the faith they showed in him.

    “Raja Beni Mellal are an old club who don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “I was going through a tough patch when I joined the side. I was 25 and I was worried that I’d end my career at that level. But fate had a nice surprise in store for me and my performances helped the team move up to the second division and then win promotion to the first.”

    The club’s hunch paid off handsomely as Naim propelled them into the Botola Pro, Morocco’s first division, courtesy of 17 goals in the amateur third tier and a further 12 in the second division.

    Cash incentive

    The man who persuaded him to sign for Beni Mellal was former star forward Hassan Fadel, who turned out for Mallorca and Malaga in the mid-to-late 1980s.

    Taking up the story, Naim said: “He restored my confidence and got me excited about the game again. He offered me 200 dollars for every goal I scored, and he asked me not to lose hope because there are a lot of players who don’t come through until quite late in their careers. The encouragement he gave me helped me play my best football.”

    These days, Naim is turning it on for Moghreb Tetouan, whose fans are indebted to him for the goals that fired the club to the league title, an achievement that brought with it a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014.

    If we start thinking about playing Real Madrid, then we’ll be heading straight for disaster. We need to take each match as it comes.

    Naim’s satisfaction in being top-scorer for Moghreb as they stormed to the 2014 championship was heightened by the fact that Raja Casablanca had turned down the chance to buy him a year earlier.

    Explaining what happened, Naim said: “The Raja coach Mohamed Fakhri called to say that he wanted to sign me. He said he’d get back to me within a few days to sign the contract. I agreed there and then because Raja were going to play in the Club World Cup. I didn’t hear back from him, though, and a month later I decided to join Moghreb Tetouan.”

    With a Moroccan league winners’ medal now safely in his possession, Naim is looking to sparkle at the Club World Cup: “I want to be the leading scorer in the competition and take Moghreb Tetouan to a top-three finish. And if I can’t top the scoring charts, then I hope to do my job and help my teammates get some good results.”

    A tough assignment

    The task awaiting Naim and his cohorts is far from easy, with Auckland City, who have picked up plenty of Club World Cup experience over the years, lying in wait for them in the opening match.

    Pondering that encounter, the striker had this to say: “It’s a key game for us, and if we play well, everything will work out for us. I’ve watched all the matches they’ve played in the Club World Cup and I think we can beat them. They’re a mid-level team.”

    He added: “My teammates are capable of raising their game. We’re a young side, but I can really sense how much we all want to reach the top. We’ve won two Moroccan titles in the last three years and there aren’t many sides that can do that.”

    Nevertheless, Moghreb Tetouan’s form in the league this season has been shaky, causing some fans to doubt their ability to upset the old world order at the Club World Cup.

    One man who does not share those concerns, however, is Naim: “We’re all thinking about the Club World Cup now, and every one of us is hoping to take part. We haven’t been getting good results in the league because we’ve been giving our all to reach the Club World Cup, which is where we’re going to show who we really are.

    “Raja weren’t doing very well in the league last season, but that didn’t stop them from springing a surprise. I hope we can follow in their footsteps.”

    As it turns out, the front man is a big Real Madrid fan and watches them in action in La Liga every weekend. So how does he feel about the possibility of coming face to face with his idols and trying to shake off the attention of Sergio Ramos?

    “Everyone wants to play against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos, Gareth Bale, Iker Casillas and Luka Modric,” he replied. “They are stars and role models for every player, but if we’re going to take them on then we need to win our other matches.”

    In signing off, however, he issued this warning: “If we start thinking about playing Real Madrid, then we’ll be heading straight for disaster. We need to take each match as it comes.”

    With only two goals to his name in ten outings in the league this season, Naim is eyeing the Club World Cup as the perfect opportunity to get back to doing what he does best. Moghreb fans are certainly hoping that will be the case.

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  • FIFA CWC: El Amri dreaming of Madrid meeting

    (FIFA.com) Now enjoying his fourth year in charge of Moghreb Tetouan, Aziz El Amri has clearly found a club to his liking. And it is probably fair to say that the Moroccan side are equally thrilled with the arrangement, their coach having steered them to a pair of league titles in his first three campaigns.

    This season is set to be even more special for team and coach alike as Tetouan are gearing up to represent their country at the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup. When they do, El Amri will become the first Moroccan tactician to lead a side at the tournament, a breakthrough event he is not taking lightly.

    "It's a huge honour for me to represent my colleagues and my compatriots," he told FIFA.com. "It's very rare to take part in this competition several times, and I hope our results will do the whole of Moroccan football proud."

    When El Amri was first appointed, Tetouan President Abdelmalek Abroun tasked him with the mission of saving the club from relegation. The newcomer did just that before setting his sights much higher, and he quickly went on to show that Tetouan could rival Morocco's leading powers by masterminding a pair of title wins.

    His spell at the helm has not been one long fairy tale, however, and there have been genuine tests along the way – not least when 14 players went on strike in 2011 to protest unpaid salaries. That forced El Amri to integrate the club's youth side into the first-team ranks, but the strike soon proved to be a blessing in disguise as the youngsters took Tetouan to their maiden championship crown after a 90-year wait in 2012.

    Buoyed by that triumph, the club opted to retain their faith in youth, a strategy that nonetheless brings challenges of its own. "We have eight young players, which has advantages and drawbacks," said El Amri. "The positives are enthusiasm and motivation, with the players giving their maximum without worrying about their salaries. The major negative is obviously their lack of experience, which can cause them to make big mistakes. I hope we'll manage to avoid that.

    "I think my team will perform very well," he added. "My players will feel a rush of adrenaline when they take part in this prestigious competition in a magnificent stadium filled to the rafters. Our motto is: 'Whatever the colour of your shirt, Tetouan will have you for dinner.'"

    The club's fans are meanwhile hoping their side can match the achievement of Raja Casablanca, who progressed all the way to the final last year. El Amri is aiming high as well, but he is quick to point out that each team has its own pedigree and that merely qualifying for the Club World Cup is a feat worth celebrating.

    Our motto is: 'Whatever the colour of your shirt, Tetouan will have you for dinner.'

    Moghreb Tetouan coach Aziz El Amri

    "Moghreb and Raja don't have anything like the same history or trophy cabinet," he explained. "That doesn't mean we'll be competing as tourists, going there to take photos of the other teams. We'll play for the honour of our town, our supporters and the country."

    Top-quality opponents

    With that goal in mind, El Amri has been paying close attention to Auckland City, the club his charges are due to face on 10 December in the opening match at Morocco 2014. He believes the New Zealand outfit have evolved significantly since they came up against Raja last year.

    "I recently saw a video of their team and I can tell you that they have changed completely. Football in New Zealand is renowned for the physical qualities of the players, like in rugby. This team plays an original kind of football, which combines the Anglo-Saxon style of crosses and headers with very good tactical organisation and lots of passes along the ground. They'll definitely cause us problems."

    Tetouan will look to create problems of their own by sticking with El Amri's beloved tiki-taka, the carousel-passing approach made famous by Barcelona. "I won't change my style, no matter how good our opponents are. It's thanks to that style that we won two league titles and reached the Club World Cup, all in spite of having a young team. Tiki-taka is spectacular and effective. For the last three years, we've dominated teams more experienced and richer than us. Moghreb Tetouan stand out because of our short passing and effectiveness in front of goal."

    El Amri is hoping those qualities will take his team far enough in the competition to meet Real Madrid, a year on from Raja's showpiece loss to Bayern Munich. "Everyone wants to face Real Madrid," he said. "But before that, we have three obstacles to overcome: Auckland City, ES Setif and San Lorenzo. It will be a long and difficult road, but if we can beat those three teams, we'll have the honour of taking on Real Madrid and all their international stars. We'll try to meet the challenge, even if our modest experience is no comparison to theirs."

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  • Press review: Mehdi Benatia Nominated for UEFA Team of the Year

    (Morocco world news) Rabat – Morocco’s National and FC Bayern Munich defender Mehdi Benatia has been nominated for the UEFA’s 40-strong shortlist team of the year along with eight other Bayern Munich players.

    Mehdi Benatia and Yaya Toure are the only the only two African players included in the 40-men shortlist for the prestigious UEFA.com award.

    Voting is open for the UEFA.com users’ Team of the Year 2014 poll. The general public have until 13.00CET on 6 January to cast their vote. They have to select their preferred formation before picking their starting XI from four goalkeepers, 12 defenders, 12 midfielders and 12 strikers.

    In the defenders category, Morocco’s Mehdia Benatia is competing with the world’s greatest defenders, such as Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Daniel Carvajal, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompan and Pablo Zabaleta, as well as 7 other defenders.

    After a successful season with Italy’s AS Rome, Mehdi Benatia moved to FC Bayern München to help shore up its defense, especially after the injury of Javi Martínez.

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  • Press review: Morocco Seeks To Play Friendlies with Argentina, Brazil and Colombia

    (morocco world news) Rabat – The Moroccan Royal Football Federation said that negotiations are underway regarding playing potential friendlies against teams from South America and Asia in the coming period.

    The move comes at a time the Moroccan national team might be out of continental action for the next four years due to sanctions by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

    CAF barred Morocco from hosting the upcoming African Cup of Nations following requests to postpone the tournament over fears of the Ebola Virus.

    Speaking to sports website Hesport, Youssef Hajob, who is in charge of the national team’s pre-competition matches, said that talks are underway to play friendly matches with national teams from South America such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, as well as from Asia, such as Japan and South Korea.

    Hajob added that they are only awaiting CAF’s final decision regarding the sanctions against Morocco in order to start working on a new program for the national team accordingly, and to sign contracts with the teams that will be available to play friendlies with.

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  • Moroccans Abroad: Fiorentina Look To Cut Ties With El Hamdaoui

    Fiorentina are set to end the contracts of Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui and Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Iakovenko when the upcoming January transfer window opens.

    El Hamdaoui and Iakovenko both have not been able to crack Fiorentina`s starting 11 even with the injuries of Italian strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Federico Bernardeschi.

    According to La Nazione, Fiorentina will look to first try and loan both players out in January, but if there is not enough interest, both player’s contracts will be terminated and each will be free to sign with whom they want.

    Both El Hamdaoui and Iakovenko have not made an appearance this season for the Viola and do not seem to be part of head coach Vincenzo Montella’s plans in the future.

    http://forzaitalianfootball.com/2014/11/fiorentina-look-to-cut-ties-with-two-players-in-january/

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  • Press review: Former Bahraini Official Opposes Morocco’s Participation in Gulf Cup

    Marrakech- Sheikh Isa bin Rashid Al Khalifa, the former president of the Bahrain Football Association said that he does not support the idea that Morocco participates in the Gulf Cup of Nations.

    The former president’s objection comes as a response to a claim made by Yousef Yaqoob Al Serkal, President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federation, who said he would welcome the participation of the Moroccan national team in the Gulf Cup.

    Sheikh Issa rejected the idea of allowing the Moroccan and Jordanian teams to take part in the Gulf Cup of Nations, stating that it’s better to maintain the competition exclusively for the people of the Gulf, according to le360.

    He added that in case Morocco and Jordan were allowed to participate in the Gulf Cup of Nations, this would open the door for other countries to make a request to participate in the competition.

    The Gulf Cup takes place every two years with participation of the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman) in addition to Iraq and Yemen. The 22th second edition of the Gulf Cup of Nations is taking place in Saudi Arabia from 13 to 26 November.

    http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/11/144329/former-bahraini-official-opposes-moroccos-participation-in-gulf-cup/

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