• Africa: AFP Sport looks at what lies in store for African national teams and clubs

    AFP Sport looks at what lies in store for African national teams, leading clubs and stars during this year:


    Hopes of a first semi-finalist from Africa are slim and even round-of-16 places in Russia are going to be hard to come by for Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.

    Well-organised Morocco were unlucky to be drawn with Spain and Portugal while Salah-inspired Egypt would fancy their chances against tournament host Russia anywhere else in the world.

    Nigeria have lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina so second spot in their group would seem the limit of their ambitions while it is hard to imagine Tunisia topping Belgium and England.

    Senegal will rely on the creativity of another Liverpool star, Sadio Mane, and physicality against Poland, Colombia and Japan in a wide open group.


    Matchday 2 qualifying is set for September -- 15 months after an upset-packed first series of matches on the road to the 2019 tournament in Cameroon.

    Former champions Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Zambia are among the countries who must play catch-up after shock home losses to Guinea, South Africa and Mozambique respectively.

    The increase in the number of qualifiers from 16 to 24 means record seven-time champions Egypt have plenty of time to recover after an opening defeat in Tunisia put them on the back foot.

    Indian Ocean island state Madagascar -- the homeland of CAF president Ahmad Ahmad -- began with a win in Sudan and have a realistic chance of making the finals for the first time.


    Title-holders the Democratic Republic of Congo failed to qualify and Tunisia did not enter, leaving Libya as the only former winners still in the competition for home-based stars.

    Libya are handicapped with security problems preventing them playing at home, but they got valuable match practice as guests in the recent CECAFA Challenge Cup east African tournament.

    The other representatives from the north, hosts Morocco, look the team to beat with seven of the Wydad Casablanca side that won the 2017 CAF Champions League challenging for places.

    Nigeria are overdue a good showing while debutants Namibia must overcome a lack of domestic football for more than a year owing to a power struggle between officials.


    A powerful field includes 10 winners of the elite African club competition, including defending champions Wydad and record eight-time title-holders Al Ahly of Egypt.

    Other north African clubs capable of going far include Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, quarter-final and semi-final losers respectively to Ahly last season.

    South of the Sahara, five-time champions TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and 2016 winners Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa could go far.

    Nigeria have not achieved success since Enyimba completed back-to-back triumphs in 2004 and newcomers Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC and Plateau United are long shots for the title.


    There is nothing second rate about the line-up in the second-tier club competition with Raja Casablanca of Morocco and Zamalek of Egypt among the title hopefuls.

    Zamalek have been African champions five times and Raja three times and five other teams who have won the premier African club competition are also in the field.

    They include Asante Kotoko of Ghana and CARA of Congo Brazzaville, who meet in a preliminary qualifier, Hafia of Guinea, Club Africain of Tunisia and Enyimba.

    SuperSport United, runners-up to Mazembe last season, will try again to become the first South African winners of the Confederation Cup.

  • Sofiane Boufal: No World Cup Pressure on Morocco

    (BBC Sport) Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal says there will be no pressure on Morocco when his nation head to Russia for the World Cup later this year.

    Morocco return to the tournament for the first time since 1998.

    "I'm so happy and so proud to be in this team because we had a very good qualification," Boufal told BBC Sport.

    "The most important thing now is to have a good World Cup. We have nothing to lose. We need to play without pressure and hope to do well."

    The 24-year-old added he needs to impress for his Premier League club between now and the World Cup to enhance his chances of making the squad heading to Russia.

    "I want to have a good season and help my club to be in a better position and to also have a good season to be part of the World Cup team," said Boufal.

    He has scored twice in 18 appearances this season for Southampton as he establishes himself at the club after a difficult first season.

    Boufal joined Southampton, for a then club-record fee of £16 million, from French side Lille in the summer of 2016 but he arrived with a knee injury and only made his debut in October 2016

    As a result of the injuries he also missed the last Africa Cup of Nations but now he is back to full fitness and wants to help his club do well.

    "I passed the difficult moment and all is behind me now. I want to see the future now that I am feeling good," he added.

    "I feel fit and I hope to continue to progress but the most important thing is the team."

    Morocco are in Group B at the World Cup alongside Iran, European champions Portugal and 2010 World Cup winners Spain.

    They will play their first World Cup game in 20 years, against Iran on 15 June in St Petersburg.

  • Lopetegui: Iran, Portugal and Morocco are all the same

    Spain national football team coach Julen Lopetegui says Iran, Portugal and Morocco are all the same.

    La Roja have been drawn with Iran, Portugal and Morocco in Group B of the 2018 World Cup.

    Spain will face Portugal in their opening match on June 15 then face Team Melli five days later and meet Morocco on June 25.

    “For us, they are all the same. Of course, we know Portugal better but we also know that Iran are the Best Asian team and Morocco are the African best,” Lopetegui told AS.

    “Portugal are the European champions and take advantage of quality player like Cristiano Ronaldo. He is supported by a great generation of players from behind. Portugal are a country with great players and an excellent level of coaches. Its tactical culture is very rich,” he added.

    “Without a doubt, Ronaldo is one of the best players in history. His ambition pushes him forward,” Lopetegui stated.

    Asked him if he is not worried about Iran and Morocco, the Spaniard coach said, “Iran have lost just two matches of their last 38 matches. The Iranian team are very well-organized and have Physical players. They are heading under guidance a coach for six years.

    “Morocco are also a difficult team, especially at this time. With the new coach they have recovered and have good players. We will respect the rivals because it’s World Cup. At the moment we have only won the right to play three games. Now, we have to earn the right to continue playing more. We have to go with humility but with ambition,” he said.


  • NT: Three Moroccan Players on France Football Magazine’s Shortlist for Best Player in Maghreb Award

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – France Football Magazine has featured Moroccan international superstars Mehdi Benatia, Nabil Dirar and Hakim Ziyech in its 2017 shortlist for the best player in the Maghreb Award.

    Juventus’s key defender Benatia, Ajax’s attacking midfielder Ziyech, Fenerbahce’s midfielder Dirar have all made the shortlist of the French Magazine. The footballers were selected for their great performances with both their international teams and Morocco’s national football team.

    In a post published on December 30, the magazine said that “At 30, [Benatia] showed that he is a leader of character with the selection he should lead in Russia as a captain in the next World Cup,” wrote the magazine.

    The magazine that has selected nine candidates for the prize said that the 31-year old Dirar “was successful throughout the year.” France Football says in post that Morocco is relying on both Benatia and Dirar in the World Cup.

    Ziyech, who has been targeted by many international football clubs, is also included in the list. The Ajax’s key midfielder has been recently linked to a move with Inter Milan for a EUR 15 million. Italian news outlet reported that the footballer might leave Ajax for the Italian giant this winter.

    The magazine selected nine players of the Maghreb, including three players from Algeria and three others from Tunisia. For Tunisia, the magazine picked up Wahbi Khazri, Ali Maaloul and Youssef Msakni. France Football then selected Faouzi Ghoulam, Sofiane Hanni and Riyad Mahrez from Algeria, Mahrez was the 2016 best player in the Maghreb, according to the magazine’s previous season of the award.

    The vote has started on Saturday, December 30. In order for people to vote for their favorite player, the magazine made available a polling section on its official website Francefootball.fr.

  • We Are Happy to Have Benatia,’ Says Juventus’ CEO

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – Moroccan footballer Mehdi Benatia is mesmerizing the world with his high determination. Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta expressed his admiration for Morocco’s football superstar and his good character.

    Maratto said that the Atlas Lion “did very well in Roma,” recalling the player’s career with Bayern Munich. “He went to Bayern, where he had some difficulties and we bought him.”

    The Italian football executive said that the club is very delighted to have Benatia playing for the Old Lady (Juventus).

    “His main qualities are his temperament and his experience,” said Juventus’ CEO. Benatia had currently played 9 games with the Italian giant, conceding a single goal in all these appearances.

    Juventus has also named the Moroccan footballer as its player of the month of November.

    The title recognizes the footballer’s great performances with his Italian team in their most decisive games, including those against Spanish rival FC Barcelona and the Italian team Crotone. On December 23, the 30-year old netted a fabulous game against his former team, AS Roma.

    Several international teams are targeting the footballer. Recently this month, British football team F.C Arsenal made an EUR 35 million offer to Juventus for Benatia. Juventus, however, did not accept Arsenal’s offer.

    The international player, who is also Morocco’s national football team captain, did his utmost to help Moroccans during 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. The footballer netted a great goal against Cote d’Ivoire on November 11. The game finished with 2-0 win for the Atlas Lions, who thus secured a place for the 2018 World Cup second round that will take place in Russia next summer.

  • Transfes: Italian Football Club Inter Milan Eyes Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – Inter Milan has reportedly been monitoring performances of Moroccan-Dutch Ajax star Hakim Ziyech, considering to sign him during this winter.

    According to Italian sports news outlet Calcio News 24, Ziyech, who plays also for Morocco’s national football team might leave his Dutch team Ajax for Inter Milan this winter. The Moroccan footballer has been mesmerizing international football clubs, including Liverpool and FC Barcelona with his professional skills and great performances in the football field.

    Inter Milan is ready to make a EUR 15 million deal with Ajax to hire its key midfielder. Ziyech’s contract with his current Dutch team, however, will not be expired until 2021. The footballer has signed Ajax in August 2016.

    The footballer joined the football academy school of SC Heerenveen in 2003 and was able to made his senior debut for the team on August 2, 2012 during the third qualification round for the UEFA Europa League against FC Rapid Bucuresti.

    In 2014, Ziyech left Heerenveen for FC Twente, with whom he signed a four years contract. The footballer also played for Netherlands Under 19, Under 20 and Under 21 teams between 2012 and 2014.

    Born and raised in Netherlands, Ziyekh chose to represent Morocco instead. On October 9, 2015, the footballer then made his debut for Morocco in a friendly with Ivory Coast, which ended with a 0-1 victory for Cote d’IVoire.

    The attacking midfielder has been delivering great performances with both the Moroccan national football squad and Ajax. In the previous months, Ziyech helped the Moroccan team qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Morocco finished unbeaten during the qualifiers phase, defeating some of the most important teams in Africa, including Gabon, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire.

    Moscow’s final draw of the tournament placed Morocco in Group B with Spain, Portugal and Iran. Ziyech is expected to play in the tournament, which will take place in Russia next summer. The Moroccan team will play its first game against Iran on June 15, while its second battle will be against Portugal on June 20. Five days later, Morocco will face Spain.

  • Juve, Benatia: ‘No training needed to face Napoli, Inter and Roma’

    (Calciomercato.com) Juventus Moroccan international defender spoek to the club's official channel, JTV, about a wide variety of issues.

    The former Roma defender spoke of the title race this seaosn stating that "we must continue the way we are playing, because if you don't concede goals the team grows in confidence, and at 0-0 with the players we have we can score at any moment. With regards to our adversaries I think that Napoli will be with us until the end, I think that Roma has something more to give and Inter are a solid team. There will be three or four of us all battling for the title, but I am convinced that come March or April, when the games that count will arrive, Juventus will be ahead."

    Then Benatia shifted attention to Morocco qualifying for the FIFA World Cup: "Going to the World Cup in Russia is a dream for me, and it's something that we hadn't been able to achieve for 20 years until now. Being the captain of the national team, I felt an extra responsibility and it's great to be able to qualify. I cannot wait to go to Russia, I will bring the family with me and hope to do well. I remember the last time Morocco were at the World Cup in France 1998. In our group we had Brazil, Scotland and Norway and we were eliminated at the first hurdle. This time we hope to make it at least past the group stages."

  • Benatia: Juve will be top

    By Football Italia staff

    Medhi Benatia says he is confident that Juventus “will be top of Serie A when the big games come up.”

    Benatia scored Juve’s winner in their 1-0 victory over Roma before Christmas to stay within a point of leaders Napoli, and the defender warned the Bianconeri would do everything possible to lift their seventh Scudetto in succession.

    “Qualifying for the World Cup was a dream and we managed to do it 20 years later,” the defender told JTV.

    “As [Morocco] captain, I felt responsibility and it’s even more beautiful like this. Scudetto? We need to stay on this path.

    “If no goals are conceded, we have forwards who can score at any moment. Napoli will be there until the end and I’ve also seen Roma in a good way.

    “They have something more than Inter, but they’re still a solid team. In March-April, when the big games come up, I’m certain and convinced that Juventus will be top.

    “I didn’t play much last season, but now the Coach he is giving me plenty of game time and I hope to repay his faith by always doing better.

    “You have to work hard here, and if you want to play on Sunday, you have to train well.

    “The Coach doesn’t just look at names but follows through with his ideas, so if he needs to make a change, he does so without thinking twice.

    “We all know we have to give 100 percent. Therefore in training, there’s always great intensity.”

  • Moroccans abroad: Taarabt ‘reborn’ at Genoa

    By Football Italia staff

    Adel Taarabt claims “I feel reborn” at Genoa as “I’ve worked hard like never before” to attain “an athlete’s body”.

    Taarabt has played a key role in Genoa’s recent resurgence under the returning Davide Ballardini, and the former Queens Park Rangers and Milan winger believes he has finally found stability in his career.

    “I feel reborn, I’ve found my football,” the 28-year-old told Premium Sport.

    “I know I’m important for the team, and that makes me very happy. Football has changed, and if you don’t have an athlete’s body, you’ll struggle: technique isn’t enough.

    “Because of that, I worked hard like never before, and I found my love for football. Ballardini? He has a different style to Juric.

    “We wait for our opponents a bit more and we try to do damage on the counterattack.

    “We’ve been picking up points by playing like this, and that’s important.”

  • Transfers: Valencia, Villarreal & Sevilla are all chasing Adel #Taarabt

    (TheAtlasLions.com) Valencia, Villarreal & Sevilla are all chasing Adel #Taarabt

    Taarabt is on loan from Benfica to Genoa & he is free to talk to clubs as his contract expires in June.


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