• WC 2018 Qualifiers: Three spots up for grabs in Africa

    (FIFA.com) With just five 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying berths available in the African Zone, the campaign was always going to be tense and hard-fought, and the fact that three of the groups still hang in the balance ahead of the final matchday is testament to that. While Nigeria and Egypt are already planning for Russia next year, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal – the current leaders in Groups A, C and D respectively – have significant hurdles to negotiate before joining them.

    FIFA.com runs the rule over the fixtures on Matchday 6 – including the replayed game between South Africa and Senegal – scheduled to take place between 10 and 14 November.

    REMINDER: Only the five group winners will qualify for Russia 2018

    Group C

    An exciting finish awaits in Group C, with the two teams vying for top spot – Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco – set to clash in Abidjan. The Atlas Lions have a slight advantage in that a draw will secure them a place in Russia, while the Ivoirians have no other option but to go all out for the win. Morocco coach Herve Renard is extremely familiar with his team’s opponents, having guided Les Éléphants to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, but he may have to do without one of his star players, Juventus centre-back Mehdi Benatia, who is nursing an injury. Renard’s counterpart, Marc Wilmots, will be missing two experienced heads on the pitch – Jean-Michael Seri (injury) and Eric Bailly (suspension) – but will be gaining another two off it, as legendary figures Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure have been called in to motivate the players in the run-up to the match. In the other game in the group, Gabon will host Mali in Franceville, where the two teams will be playing for nothing but pride.

  • Mustapha Hadji: ‘The Moroccan people have been waiting for this for a long time’

    (The Guardian) The former Coventry midfielder and current Morocco assistant coach talks about what it would mean for the nation to reach a first World Cup since 1998

    For most players, it was the kind of nightmare scenario probably best forgotten. But nearly 20 years since Morocco’s World Cup hopes were so cruelly dashed by Norway’s surprise victory over a Brazil side featuring Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, that golden summer in France is a memory that Mustapha Hadji will always cherish.

    “It was of the law of football. You just have to accept it,” insists the former Coventry and Aston Villa midfielder from his home in Agadir. “I played in front of all my friends and family so it was a special time. Everyone was waiting for Morocco to make it through to the second round but sometimes that’s just the way it is. Maybe if we got through we would have been beaten badly and people would have forgotten all about it. But we played some very good football and that will always stay in the hearts of the Moroccan people.”

    Despite Hadji’s brilliant solo goal in the 2-2 draw with Norway and a 3-0 victory over Scotland in Saint-Étienne in their final match, the Atlas Lions were denied the chance to follow the class of 1986 into the knockout stage after Kjetil Rekdal’s 89th-minute penalty against Brazil in Marseille.

    Two decades on, Morocco have the opportunity to make it to the World Cup for the first time since then when they face Ivory Coast in Abidjan on Saturday needing only a point to qualify. A spectacular transformation in fortunes under the former Ivory Coast manager Hervé Renard, who in 2015 became the first man to win Africa Cup of Nations titles with different countries, has transformed a team that had struggled to live up to the exploits of previous generations and missed out on hosting Africa’s premier competition that year after pulling out because of the Ebola epidemic.

    With Hadji as his assistant, the former Cambridge United manager has led Morocco to the top of Group C after five matches. Now only the mighty Elephants stand in their way.

    “He has done a really great job,” says Hadji. “You can see the atmosphere in the team – there is passion among the players and we have brought in a more professional approach. The spirit is superb and that has made a big difference. Sometimes just having quality isn’t enough.”

    Bolstered by a number of players with Moroccan heritage who were born overseas including the captain, Medhi Benatia of Juventus, the Southampton forward Sofiane Boufal, the Galatasaray playmaker Younès Belhanda and the rising star Achraf Hakimi of Real Madrid, Renard’s side followed up a first quarter-final appearance at the Cup of Nations since 2004 earlier this year with home victories over Mali and Gabon to put themselves in pole position for a place in Russia next summer. Hadji, who represented France at Under-21 level having moved to Alsace-Lorraine as a child, believes they are reaping the benefits of the squad’s varied upbringings.

    “I was probably the first player to choose Morocco and it comes down to what is in your heart,” he says. “It’s not about money or anything else – you play for your own country and represent all your family. I’m really happy with the choice I made and to be able to help the current generation.

    “When you have players like them coming to play for their own country it makes a big difference. We have been able to mix together the best of the players from overseas and those who grew up in Morocco.”

    The appointment of the former government finance minister Fouzi Lekjaa as president of the Moroccan FA in 2013 also proved to be a turning point. Lekjaa has ensured that the success of the country’s thriving domestic league – WAC Casablanca beat Al Ahly in the final of the African Champions League last weekend – has been translated to the national side, with King Mohammed VI also attempting to fulfil his late father Hassan II’s long-term ambition to host the World Cup in 2026 – the fifth time they have bid for the tournament having just missed out to South Africa in 2010. Hadji is in no doubt what qualifying for next year’s edition could do for his country.

    “After Islam, football is our second religion,” he says. “Morocco loves the game and is a real football country. It would be the first time we have qualified since the king came to the throne so we will try to do it for him as well. It would be the biggest gift we can give if we make it. The Moroccan people have been waiting for this for a long time – rich people, poor people, the guy on top of a mountain with his sheep.”

    Hadji moved to England from Deportivo de La Coruña in 1999, forming a formidable partnership with his compatriot Youssef Chippo at Coventry. Despite the club’s demise to League Two since, he still follows their fortunes from afar. His three seasons at Villa Park were not as memorable but Hadji ended up playing professionally until he was almost 40 – winding down his career in the German second division with FC Saarbrücken before moving to Fola Esch in Luxembourg.

    Having spent a year assisting the former Tunisia coach Bertrand Marchand in Qatar, he was approached by Lekjaa in 2014 and offered the chance to become an assistant to Ezzaki Badou, the previous Morocco coach. Badou’s departure last year heralded the arrival of Renard after a disappointing spell in charge of Lille ended in the Frenchman’s sacking, with Hadji retained in his post.

    “It was my dream to come back to the national team,” he says. “When Hervé came in, we had a big meeting and he asked me to stay. I’ve learned a lot under him and now we are more than just colleagues. We are friends who talk a lot and we have the same beliefs about football.”

    With Renard’s intimate knowledge of Ivory Coast’s star-studded squad which includes Manchester United’s Eric Bailly and the Nice playmaker Jean Michaël Seri, Morocco should still fancy their chances of stopping Marc Wilmots’ side reaching the World Cup for the fourth straight tournament. Yet given his experience at France ‘98, Hadji is wary of taking anything for granted.

    “Hervé knows everything about them but we have to be careful,” he says. “Even if you know the players and their mentality like he does, it doesn’t make it easy. We will have to prepare ourselves for a 90-minute fight.

    “The players know they have a great opportunity to become part of Morocco’s football history and only they can make that happen. If we qualify, everyone will remember them for many years to come. You can play in the Premier League or Champions League but the World Cup is something else. To play for your country is the best level anyone can reach.

    “Football is magic – it can do things that no other sport can. It can make you cry in one second and make you feel in love the next. Politics can’t do that. Only football. We have to do it. We cannot just try.”

  • WC 2018 Qualifiers: A look at Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco World Cup chances

    Cote d’Ivoire will compete with Morocco for one of the three remaining tickets to Russia World Cup from Africa in a titanic return match expected to shake Abidjan with the aftershock reaching Rabat.

    Morocco have already touched down in the Cote d’Ivoire’s capital ahead of the Saturday’s group “C” tie whose first leg ended in a barren draw in Marrakech a year ago.

    A point for the Atlas Lions, who lead the group on nine points, will be enough to see them through for a fifth appearance since France 1998, while the hosts on eight points, will need a win for a third straight bite at the cherry.

    Other members of the group Mali and Gabon have given way.

    Traditionally this is a scoring match with only two barren draws in 18 previous fixtures.

    Five 1-0 score line have been witnessed with the rest registering over two goals per match.

    Overall, Cote d’Ivoire boast six wins against Morocco’s five with seven draws recorded.

    History aside, Cote d’Ivoire are known to be relentless before home support and seldom let an opportunity slip away.

    However, this cannot be said of the current squad that has proved unpredictable as Osasu Obayiuwana, an African football journalist puts it.

    “Normally, I would say that if qualification is in the hands of the Ivoirians, they will get it,”

    “But this team is not one the Ivorian people can trust to deliver, which is what makes this match interesting.”

    The Elephants were poised to run away with this group earlier but an away loss to Gabon and a barren draw at home against a youthful Mali in the last two rounds rocked their ship allowing Morocco to grab the steering wheel.

    Belgian manager Marc Wilmots, who took over from Frenchman Dussuyer in March after an underwhelming AFCON 2017 outing, has also left more questions than answers during his short stint.

    In eight matches in charge of the Elephants, he has only managed two wins; 2-0 against Russia in a friendly and 3-0 versus Gabon in the World Cup qualifiers.

    Morocco on the other hand held Mali away before winning the return leg 3-0 in the previous two rounds of the qualifiers.

    Motivation to break a two-decade wait to return to the World Cup will be their main driving force.

    “Motivation is much more on the Morocco side,” Dr. Hosam Hassan, a medical doctor and North African football expert opines.

    Nigeria and Egypt have already sailed through to Russia from the CAF region with three more slots expected to be filled starting 10th Friday.


  • World Cup Qualifier: Ivory Coast vs Morocco – Lineups, Preview and Prediction

    Morocco have one foot on the plane to Russia but a win for Les Éléphants and Zaha will see the Lions left at home

    17:30 GMT, Saturday 11th November, Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Abidjan, Côte

    d’Ivoire), BT Sport 3

    Having qualified for the last three successive World Cups, the Ivory Coast head into the final group stage game staring at the very real possibility they will miss out next year.

    Marc Wilmots’ side have been poor in comparison to previous years with an inconsistent run in the World Cup Qualifiers which have seen them fail to record a win at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and more recently have them held by bottom side Mali and losing at home to Gabon.

    Despite losing their grip on top-spot in the table and only recording one win from six competitive games this year, their fate still lies in their own hands.

    Morocco are unbeaten in their five games from Group C (W2, D3) and can qualify if they maintain this status beyond Friday. If they succeed, this will be the first time Morocco have reached the finals since 1998.

    It will be a welcome return to the competition for a side who were the first African nation to win a point and also the first side to progress through the group stages. However, they’re not there yet and they will need to overcome the weight of expectancy which has crippled them for many of the last 20 years.

    Last Time Out

    Mali 0-0 Ivory Coast (World Cup qualification)

    Ivory Coast’s hopes of qualification were left hanging in the balance as a lifeless game saw Mali’s hopes finally extinguished.

    Without many of their star players, it was the absence of Jean Seri in the centre of the team which was most keenly felt as Les Éléphants were unable to dictate proceedings while their makeshift strike force struggled to threaten Mali’s goal.

    Mali’s Moussa Doumbia had the game’s best moment when he had a shot come back off the woodwork midway through the second half. The away side eventually sprung to life at the end of the game but it was too little, too late with a scoreless draw being a fair result and a true reflection of the game.

    Morocco 3-0 Gabon (World Cup qualification)

    A day after Mali held the Ivory Coast to a draw, the Atlas Lions took advantage of the situation to knock Gabon out of the competition and claim pole position in Group C.

    While Gabon manager Jose Antonio Camacho added weight to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s claim the team were pole-axed the day before the game by a batch of soured orange juice, they were still resoundingly beaten by Morocco.

    A hat-trick from Khalid Boutaib was the difference between the two sides although Gabon rarely troubled the home team and produced only two shots on goal during the entire game, neither of those being on target.

    By comparison, the Atlas Lions enjoyed 20 shots on goal with 73% of possession in what was ultimately a comfortable victory for a team who have slowly built up a head of steam through this qualification process.

    Morocco don’t have any major injury concerns and will be able to field the same starting eleven which proved more than sufficient against Gabon last month.

    They do, however, have options from the bench with Southampton’s Soufiane Boufal to call upon and, perhaps more pertinently, Achraf Bencherki who is a young centre-forward who has greatly impressed for Wydad recently.

    Key Battle: Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast) vs Medhi Benatia (Morocco)

    Zaha has only been back from injury for one month but has already picked up where he finished last season. As Crystal Palace’s main danger man, Wilmots will be hoping he can bring this same form to his countries table. After choosing to represent his country of birth over England last December, this will be the first time in 20 years that Zaha has been back on native soil. If he can lead his international side to the Finals next summer, he’s likely to get a welcome home he’ll never forget.

    What Morocco don’t have in high-profile, star-name players, they more than make up for in their collective ability. One star name they do possess, however, is captain and Juventus defender, Medhi Benatia.

    As a team who have failed to score in three of their five games in the qualification group, defence has been key to their success. Morocco are yet to concede a goal in Group C and another clean sheet would not only be a remarkable achievement from what many labelled the group of death, it will guarantee them a trip to Russia next year.

    Talking Points

    A chink in the elephant’s skin

    With the Ivory Coast forwards proving to be inconsistent, it has been their defence which has helped to carry them through their recent stumbles. Despite having a weakness between the posts, the back-four have formed a formidable shield to protect their goal.

    Eric Bailly’s suspension means that they will be without a key component this weekend. With Lamine Koné a potential replacement, the out-of-form Sunderland defender cannot compare to the player he’s replacing.

    The elephant’s ghost

    Hervé Renard may not have success at club level but he’s proven himself to be highly adept at leading international sides to relative glory. Having led Zambia to the quarter-final stage of the AFCON in 2010, he then won the tournament with them two years later.

    The first manager to claim the title with two different countries when he managed the Ivory Coast to victory in 2015, Renard is now aiming to impede his old team by taking Morocco to the World Cup finals at their expense. With first-hand inside knowledge of the players, he will have more than just his lucky white shirt to help him prevail.

    Prediction: Ivory Coast 1-2 Morocco

    This fixture is sure to be an all-action affair with the Ivory Coast needing to score to stand any chance of topping the group. The last three results between these two sides since January 2016 have seen a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win each to leave this tie on a knife-edge.

    However, this game should be more open than those previous encounters. While the home advantage for Les Éléphants can be balanced out with their poor form this year, Renard seems to have found a formula which works at international level and a win for his side will see the Ivory Coast eliminated and, quite possibly, the end of Marc Wilmots’ time in charge of the team.


  • WC 2018 Qualifiers: Bad pitch in Abidjan!

    Bad quality of the pitch where the crucial match between The Atlas Lions and Cote d'Ivoire will take place


  • 2018 World Cup Qualifiers : Morocco national football team arrived in Abidjan

    Morocco national football team arrived on Wednesday night in Abidjan, where it is supposed to face on Saturday its Ivorian counterpart in a decisive match for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

    On their arrival at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport, the technical and administrative staffs accompanying the team and the delegation of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation were received by the Ambassador of Morocco to Cote d’Ivoire, Abdelmalek Kettani, and a huge crowd of Moroccan supporters living in Cote d’Ivoire.

    Moroccans in Abidjan gathered for hours at the airport to support members of the national team.

    Morocco will be qualified to the 2018 World Cup supposed to be held in Russia if it manages to defeat the Ivorian Elephants.

    ...More : https://en.yabiladi.com/articles/details/59198/2018-world-qualifiers-morocco-national.html

  • U21: Morocco held by France 1-1 in friendly

    (TheAtlasLions.com) Morocco U21 and France U21 shared the points in the first friendly game of two.

    Game ended 1-1 where Hicham Boussoufiane scored the goal for Morocco.

  • WC 2026: Uganda to support Morocco in bid for 2026 FIFA World Cup

    KAMPALA, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Uganda will support Morocco to bid the 2026 Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) World Cup.

    Moses Magogo, head of Uganda's football governing body told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday that after South Africa successfully hosted the World Cup in 2010 for the first time in Africa, Morocco also has what it takes to host the world's biggest football showpiece.

    "Morocco has the facilities, good road network, good stadiums, hotels and communication which are all good to host the World Cup. We shall vote for Morocco during the 2020 FIFA Assembly," added Magogo.

    Morocco will contest against a joint US-Mexico-Canada bid to host the first ever World Cup that will have 48 nations.

    FIFA on Tuesday released the bidding guide for the 2026 World Cup.

    The bidding process will have the infrastructure and commercial criteria in the technical evaluation report which will being assessed based on infrastructure (70 percent) and commercial elements (30 percent).

    The 2026 bid will be Morocco's fifth attempt to try and convince the international football community that another African nation is ready to host the showpiece.

    Morocco were beaten by France for the 1998 hosting rights and by South Africa to a 2010 tournament.

  • WC 2018 Qualifiers: Final three African soccer World Cup slots to be settled

    (Reuters) - Senegal and Tunisia are on the brink of qualification for next year’s World Cup finals but the tussle between the Ivory Coast and Morocco is set for a dramatic finale in Abidjan at the weekend.

    Egypt and Nigeria have already claimed two of the five African slots for the tournament in Russia and the final set of qualifiers being played over the next week will determine the other three.

    Group C will also be settled on Saturday where Morocco lead the standings by a single point from the Ivorians, who have been to the last three World Cups but have been struggling in recent times without the influence of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure.

    Anything other than a win for the Ivorians will give Morocco their first appearance at a World Cup in 20 years.

    “It’s like a cup final we have to win,” said Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots at a news conference on Wednesday.

  • NT: Adel Taarabt will not join the National team for the moment

    (TheAtlasLions.com) Adel Taarabt will not join the National Team for their clash with Cote d'Iviore, he will stay with Genoa.

    Herve Renard explained in an interview published today on the Gazzetta dello Sport why Taarabt will not join the Atlas Lions for the moment: "When you are coach the most important thing is the group, and all the players who came here deserve to stay in team and come to Côte d'Ivoire.

    Talent Taarabt should be quiet of ours, he's a great player, I talked to him a month ago and complimented him for his brilliant start of the season with Genoa. If someone gets hurt I will call him up, otherwise I'll do it in the future : the national doors for him are open , he is not far from the group".



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