• NT: Morocco to play Uruguay in friendly in Agadir

    (TheAtlasLions.com) It is official: Morocco will play Uruguay in friendly in Agadir on March 28th at 20h00 local time, announced Morocco Football Federation (FRMF) on Saturday.

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  • NT: Friendly Against Brazil Canceled

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – The friendly match between Morocco and Brazil scheduled to take place next March in Agadir has been canceled.

    According to media reports, the much anticipated friendly between star-studded Brazil and the Moroccan national team was canceled because the President of the Moroccan Royal Football Federation (FRMF), Fouzi Lakjaa, had refused to pay the MAD 30 million needed for the coming of the Brazilian team.

    According to Radio Mars, Uruguay is expected to replace Brazil in the Agadir friendly that will be part of the Moroccan national team’s preparations for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

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  • Friendly: Morocco to Play a Friendly Against Brazil in March

    Rabat – The Moroccan national team will play an international friendly match against Brazil on March 17th, said Faouzi Lakjaa, President of the Moroccan Royal Football Federation (FRMF).

    Speaking to Radio Mars on Monday, Lakjaa said the friendly match against Brazil will take place in the Grand Stadium of Agadir in March.

    He also said that the Brazilian national team will participate with all its key players, adding that the friendly is part of the preparations of the Moroccan national team for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

    http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2015/01/149500/morocco-to-play-a-friendly-against-brazil-in-march/

    http://www.almountakhab.com/node/113439

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  • Transfers: Reds confirm Assaidi permanent deal

    Liverpool Football Club can confirm Oussama Assaidi has left on a permanent transfer to join Al Ahli Club.

    The Moroccan winger ended a loan spell with Stoke City early in order to complete the switch to Dubai.

    Assaidi moved to Anfield from Heerenveen in the summer of 2012 and made 12 appearances for the Reds.

    The 26-year-old originally joined Stoke on a season-long loan deal in September 2013 and returned to the Britannia Stadium at the start of the current campaign before signing for Al Ahli.

    http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/latest-news/178043-reds-confirm-assaidi-permanent-deal

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  • Morocco: Morocco king sacks sports minister over flooded soccer pitch

    RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's king has sacked the country's sports minister after heavy rain flooded a soccer stadium and disrupted a Club World Cup quarter final, state media reported on Wednesday.

    Players complained the waterlogged pitch in Rabat was dangerous and demanded an explanation from soccer's governing body FIFA after the December game between Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers and Mexico's Cruz Azul.

    The conditions at the Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium triggered an outcry in the sports-mad country's newspapers and social media and subsequent matches had to be moved to Marrakech.

    Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine said he was ready to go after an investigation blamed the ministry and the company that prepared the venue and found there had been a failure in the pitch's drainage systems, said the MAP agency.

    "When the minister saw the results of the investigation, he asked the prime minister to submit to his majesty his willingness to be dismissed from his post," MAP added.

    It was unclear what impact the departure would have on the make-up of Morocco's Islamist-led coalition. Ouzzine's Popular Movement Party has five other ministers.

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  • Morocco’s Benatia Named 2014’s Best Arab Footballer

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – Bayern Munich defender and Moroccan national Mehdi Benatia was named the Arab World’s Best Footballer of 2014 at the Global Soccer Awards Ceremony at the end of the 9th International Sports Conference on December 29, 2014 in Dubai.

    Benatia, who has been in the Bundesliga for just a few months after proving to be an outstanding defender in Garzia’s Roma, was elected the Best Arab Footballer at a glittering ceremony at Atlantis The Palm.

    Morocco’s Benatia Named 2014’s Best Arab Footballer

    The Moroccan player has been described by the European media as an intelligent, hard defender and, at the same time, a threat when he presses forward into the box. He is a battler; he organizes the defense.

    Mehdi Benatia has played in France, Italy, and is now making a name for himself in Germany at the country’s model club, Bayern Munich. In an almost unanimous opinion, he was recognized as the embodiment of North African and Arab football.

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  • 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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