• WC 2018: 'Brilliant and sloppy' Ziyech could prove Morocco’s talisman

    (Reuters) - Hakim Ziyech reacted with a fit of pique when he was left out of Morocco’s squad for last year’s African Nations Cup finals and vowed he would never play international football again.

    Some six months later he was netting key goals for the north Africans as they surged past the more fancied Ivory Coast in their qualifying group to book a place at the World Cup finals in Russia.

    It is characteristic of the 25-year-old, Dutch-born wide player to react tempestuously in adversity but he is also admired for his understated manner in celebrating his success.

    Coach Herve Renard felt he could not assure the mercurial Ajax midfielder of a starting berth in his line-up for the Nations Cup and preferred not to have such a strong personality brooding on the bench.

    But Ziyech’s absence was something Moroccans could ill-afford in their bid to earn a first World Cup place in 20 years, and Renard travelled to patch up the relationship.

    Going into next month’s World Cup finals, it is Ziyech who could prove the team’s talisman if Morocco can overcome a difficult draw.

    “Ziyech is a player whom everyone is always talking about,” wrote the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad.

    “It is because in a single game he can manage to be both absolutely brilliant and astonishingly sloppy.”

    His consistent inconsistency drives Ajax supporters to distraction and they often subject him to a humiliating concert of derisory whistles. Earlier this month however, they also voted him their player of the season.

    Ziyech intends to move on from Ajax after the World Cup and the finals present him with a stage to attract top-quality suitors.

    “I have little left to achieve in the Netherlands and I feel I need a new challenge,” he said.

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  • Factbox - Morocco World Cup

    (Reuters) - Factbox on the Morocco national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:

    FIFA ranking: 42 (till June 7)

    Previous tournaments:

    Morocco are appearing in their fifth World Cup finals, but their first since the 1998 edition in France. They were only the second African country to play at the finals, picking up a first point at the 1970 tournament in Mexico and then in 1986 becoming the first African country to get past the opening round when they topped a group ahead of England, Poland and Portugal. They were narrowly beaten by West Germany in the last 16.

    Coach:

    Herve Renard: Just over a decade ago, Renard was running an office cleaning business and dreaming of a way into the game. He took up a post as assistant to Claude Le Roy, the much-travelled Frenchman who has handled numerous different African national teams, and has not looked back since. Renard, who turns 50 this year, took Zambia to the 2012 African Nations Cup title and repeated the feat with the Ivory Coast three years later. Regarded as having a firm disciplinary hand but also allowing free-flowing football, Renard’s success in Africa has seen him twice offered jobs in Ligue 1 but his tenures at Sochaux and Lille proved brief.

    Key players:

    Younes Belhanda: A graduate of Montpellier’s prodigious youth system, the crafty midfielder helped the unfashionable club to win their first Ligue 1 title in 2012 and was named France’s best footballer at the same time. The success led to a lucrative move to Dynamo Kiev, where he slipped somewhat from view, but he went to Galatasaray on a four-year deal last July and the 28-year-old is again proving his worth.

    Mehdi Benatia: French-born centre-back whose career looked stuck in Ligue 2 before he moved to Italy and made a quick impression with Udinese, his fortunes surging as he was signed by Roma, Bayern Munich and then Juventus. The 31-year-old won two Bundesliga titles at Bayern and now two in a row with Juventus.

    Karim El Ahmadi: The 33-year-old defensive midfielder is likely to call time on his international career at the end of the World Cup. He captained Feyenoord to their first league title in 18 years last season and at the end of the year was voted best player in the Dutch league.

    Form guide:

    Morocco beat Serbia and Uzbekistan in warm-up friendlies in March and their home-based national team, made up of players from their local league, won the African Nations Championship which the country hosted in January.

    How they qualified:

    Morocco did not concede a goal in finishing top of Group C in the African preliminaries, four points clear of second-placed Ivory Coast, who had been to the three previous World Cups.

    Prospects:

    Morocco have been handed a tough draw after being grouped with Portugal, Spain and Iran. They must get their Group B campaign off to a winning start against Iran on June 15 in St Petersburg and then hope for results against the reigning European champions and 2010 World Cup winners.

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  • ‘We Don’t Always Select The Best Players’: Coach Hervé Renard

    Morocco World News

    Rabat – After revealing his list of 23 players, Hervé Renard has explained his choices in an interview with Medi 1 TV, expressing once again his joy in leading the Atlas Lions to the 2018 World Cup.

    Renard is well aware of the high responsibility that he will face in the World Cup. After releasing his picks for the players who will compete this summer, the French coach has explained that he doesn’t always select the best players, but he always serves the interests of the whole group.

    “We do not always pick the top 23. We select a group of 16 or 17 players and then people who are able to not get bored for a month, a month and a half. That is to say that states of mind are not mandatory and that the collective interest is primary,” he said.

    The national team coach is responding to criticism that leaving Boufal and Azaro off the list is unfair.

    For Renard, Morocco’s participation in the long-awaited event is like a dream come true.

    “I feel like I’m going to live something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid. Participating in the World Cup is a pride,” he said, while assuring that he has confidence in his group of players.

    “Morocco is certainly expecting great things from its national team. I think we are on the right track. This is what makes you want to go to the World Cup not to disappoint people, not to make sad a country like Morocco who expects great things from his national team or at least a very good image. I think we are on the right track.”

    However, Renard believes that the World Cup is an Africa Cup of Nations multiplied by 10.

    “Since I participated in 6 African Cups, I have a little experience. Now there are parameters that I will have to master a little more for this World Cup. I’m going to meet people to take advice, to win and to make sure that we improve on some small details that will make the difference,” he concluded.

    When the tournament begins on June 14, the Atlas Lions will first take on Iran on June 15. The team will face Portugal in their second game on June 20, and the final in the first-round match for Morocco will be against Spain on June 25.

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  • Former internationals: First Moroccan to Score in the World Cup Dies at 74

    By Morocco World News

    Rabat – The former Moroccan player, Mohammed Jarir, died on Saturday, at 74, in the United States of America.

    With Jarir’s passing, Morocco lost one of his formative former players, who wore the Moroccan colors with distinction on more than one occasion. Jarir was born in 1944, in Casablanca, and his passion for football began at the age of 8. He started his professional football career in one of Morocco’s strongest clubs, Raja Club Athletic.

    Jarir demonstrated his dedication and love for football with his phenomenal skills and performance, which later led him to become a member of the Moroccan national team for the 1970 Mexican World Cup. During the tournament, Jarir scored a goal against Germany, becoming the first Moroccan to score in the World Cup.

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  • WC 2026: German Lothar Matthäus named ambassador for Morocco's bid to host 2026 World Cup

    (Xinhua) -- Former captain of German football team Lothar Matthäus has been appointed as Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid ambassador, Morocco's bid committee announced on Saturday.

    "Morocco is pleased to welcome the iconic Lothar Matthäus, former captain of the German national team and winner of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, as Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid ambassador," the Committee said in a statement.

    "I support Morocco's bid for the FIFA 2026 World Cup because I am convinced that Morocco, with its innovative concept, will offer good conditions to players, fans and all football lovers," Matthäus said, adding that Morocco is a true football land.

    Matthäus was also FIFA's best footballer for 1991. He won the prize of the best European player for 1990 and the best German player for 1990 and 1999.

    The German star joins the list of ambassadors of the Moroccan bid, which includes former Brazilian football star Roberto Carlos, Cameroonian Joseph-Antoine Bell, Senegalese Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga, Tunisian Adel Chedli and Congolese Robert Kidiaba.

    Morocco is looking to be the second African side to ever host the tournament after South Africa in 2010.

    This is Morocco's fifth bid to host the World Cup, after its losses for the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 editions of the event.

    Morocco is competing with a joint bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    The winning bid is slated to be announced in June, 2018.

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  • Moroccans Abroad: Youssef El-Arabi Awarded Best Scorer in Qatar

    (Morocco World News) Although he did not make Coach Hervé Renard’s list of 23 players for the national team in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Youssef El-Arabi can be proud of himself, as he was awarded the trophy of the best scorer in the Qatar Stars League for the 2017/2018 season.

    The Moroccan international player received the distinction Thursday night in Doha.

    With a total of 26 goals, the international footballer led his Qatari team Al-Duhail to win the Qatar championship.

    The club has won for the second time in a row and for the sixth time in its history.

    El-Arabi’s performance allowed him to beat Tunisian Youssef Msakni, who scored 25 goals during the season. The Moroccan Abderazzak Hamed Allah, who plays in the Al Rayyan club, came in third place with 18 goals scored during the championship.

    As for El-Arabi’s national career, the 31-year-old sensation previously expressed his wish to be chosen to play with the Atlas Lions for the World Cup.

    “Any footballer dreams of defending the colors of his country at the World Cup,” he said in an interview with the German Press Agency (DPA).

    Born in France, El Arabi represented Morocco with the Atlas Lions in 2010 in three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. The footballer also played for Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal club and for La Liga Club Granada in 2012.

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  • Moroccans Abroad: Boufal wins Premier League Goal of the Season

    By SFC Media

    Sofiane Boufal has been chosen as the winner of the Premier League's 2017/18 Goal of the Season award.

    The Saints player's incredible solo strike in the 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion last October was voted the best of any in the top-flight during the campaign.

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  • Press review: Saiss Relishing World Cup Challenge

    Fresh from being selected in the Morocco squad, Romain Saiss is excited to challenge himself against some of the best at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

    On Thursday, the Wolves midfielder was selected in the final 23-man squad for Morocco, who have been drawn into a group with Spain, Portugal and Iran.

    The 28-year-old, who plays in defence for his country, has now turned his attention to Russia and is excited to perform on the biggest stage.

    “We’ve waited for 20 years to be in a World Cup,” he explained. “It’s a good opportunity to play against the best teams in the world, players who’ll play in the Champions League final.

    “Ronaldo is probably the best striker in the world so it will be a good game, but I’m not focused on Ronaldo, they are a really good team. For the final in the European Championship he was injured but they won without him.

    “It’s just football, we are lucky to enjoy it and this could be the only World Cup in my career. The most important thing is not to be afraid, stay humble because we should play like we did before.

    “If we stay on the pitch afraid because we play against Spain or Portugal, it’s better we stay at home, but we have good fighting spirit and let’s see if we can pass the group.”

    Morocco’s last World Cup appearance came in 1998, when they were eliminated at the group stage, despite picking up four points against Scotland and Norway.

    However, in qualification Saiss and his team mates finished top of their group and are pleased to be performing well for their country, as well as Africa as a continent.

    “To have a good World Cup will be good for Africa because we want to organise it in 2026 so we have to show a good mentality and give the best for the country and Africa.

    “We have a good team, we finished first in our group, which was the hardest in qualification from Africa. We were in a group of five and had to be top.

    “With Portugal and Spain in our group, we are not the favourites to pass. We don’t have pressure but want to go to the World Cup with good ambition.”

    Saiss, who has performed in midfield for Wolves all season, alongside Ruben Neves and Alfred N’Diaye, is utilised in a back three for Morocco and enjoys the different role.

    “I think the two positions are a little bit similar and for my last club I played at centre back when someone was suspended or injured.

    “If they ask me to play goalkeeper or striker, I say no problem. It’s good for my career because I can play two positions.”

    Morocco’s World Cup campaign begins on 15th June against Iran in Saint Petersburg and Saiss knows the importance of that fixture, given the difficulty of the following two.

    “Maybe the game against Iran is the most important, I think a lot of people think Morocco and Iran will be out after the group. They play very good football, they are a good team with a good coach.

    “A victory would be important for the confidence before the games against Spain and Portugal. I trust in my team and the staff.

    “The most important thing is to be ready for the World Cup and give everything for Morocco. We finished the job with Wolves so now I’m focused on my second objective,” he said.

    https://www.wolves.co.uk/news/club/20180518-saiss-relishing-world-cup-challenge/

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  • Press review: Morocco announce provisional squad

    (FIFA.com) Morocco coach Herve Renard announced a provisional list of 23 players and three reserves that will make up the North African team, who return to the World Cup for the first time since 1998.

    The team will begin their preparation in Rabat on 24 May before taking part in three warm-up matches, prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

    Renard's Atlas Lions will play Ukraine on 31 May and Slovakia on 4 June (both games in Geneva, Switzerland) before taking on Estonia in Tallinn on 9 June.

    Morocco's match schedule at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

    All squads are provisional until the final list of 23 players is announced by FIFA, following their submission by participating teams, on 4 June.

    Morocco provisional squad

    Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia, Spain), Yassine Bounou (Girona, Spain), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger);

    Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus, Italy), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir, Turkey), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid, Spain), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France);

    Midfielders: M'bark Boussoufa (Al Jazira, UAE), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen, France), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray, Turkey), Faycal Fajr (Getafe, Spain), Amine Harit (Schalke, Germany);

    Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor, Turkey), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St. Pauli, Germany), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes, Spain), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege, Belgium), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax, Netherlands).

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  • World Cup 2018: Sofiane Boufal left out of Morocco squad

    (BBC) Southampton midfielder Sofiane Boufal has been left out of the Morocco squad for this summer's World Cup in Russia.

    The 24-year-old, a record signing when he joined Saints from Lille for £16m in 2016, has not played since 31 March following a dispute with manager Mark Hughes.

    Wolves defender Romain Saiss is in a squad containing only three men from the main Moroccan league, the Botola.

    Morocco are in Group B in Russia alongside Iran, Portugal and Spain.

    Morocco squad:

    Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger)

    Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir), Badr Benoun (Raja Casablanca), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (LOSC)

    Midfielders: M'barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke 04)

    Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Saint Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax).

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