• Press review: Renard: Morocco have what it takes to qualify

    (FIFA.com) Twice a CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner, Herve Renard has high hopes of reaching his first world finals

    Twenty years have passed since Morocco last appeared at the FIFA World Cup™, when Mustapha Hadji, Youssef Chippo and Salaheddine Bassir wowed the fans at France 1998.

    Current Morocco captain Mehdi Benatia was only 11 at the time, while team-mate Hakim Ziyech was aged just five. Having sat out four tournaments since, the Moroccan Football Association focused their attention on Russia 2018 by appointing Frenchman Herve Renard as head coach of the national team. A CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner with Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire, Renard began his tenure with two goalless draws in Group C of the African qualifying competition for Russia 2018, results that left Morocco fans underwhelmed.

    Discussing that slow start with FIFA.com, he said: “We came back from Gabon with a good result and we wanted to win when we played Côte d’Ivoire, but they were solid opponents. We had two good chances to get the three points but we couldn’t put them away.”

    Hopes revived

    Following those results, Morocco travelled back to Gabon for the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, reaching the quarter-finals despite being without a number of first-choice players. In the process, the Atlas Lions knocked out defending champions Côte d’Ivoire in the group phase, with their performances rekindling their supporters’ hopes of a place at Russia 2018.

    With the continental finals now behind them, the Moroccans are devoting all their attention to World Cup qualifying. They gave their campaign a boost with an emphatic 6-0 win over Mali in Rabat, while group leaders Côte d’Ivoire lost at home to Gabon.

    It proved to be a case of feast or famine though, as the return against the Malians in Bamako produced another goalless result. “We took our chances in the first game and didn’t in the second," Renard admitted. "When we missed a penalty and four one-on-ones against the keeper. We dropped points, but so did our rivals. I think we’re still on the right track.”

    The time has come

    Most observers are agreed that Group C is one of the tightest of the five in Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire just two points ahead of third-placed Gabon and one in front of Morocco in second. In the next round of games the North Africans will entertain the Gabonese, while the Ivorians travel to Mali, who lie bottom.

    Renard does not see that as an advantage, however: “It’ll be a good matchday for us if we can beat Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire lose in Bamako, but that’s just hypothetical right now. We need to repeat the performance we produced against Mali at home. We’ll be playing in Casablanca, where the atmosphere will be white hot, and we need to put ourselves in the best possible position before we go to the Côte d’Ivoire on 6 November.

    “They’re not the most balanced team there is, but they do have some superb players, like [Didier] Ndong and [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang,” said Renard, discussing the threat posed by Gabon. “The Gabonese are very strong on the counter, especially when Aubameyang starts. They also know how to cope when they don’t have the Borussia Dortmund striker, as they showed in beating Côte d’Ivoire. That means we can’t take anything for granted against them. We absolutely need to win because any other type of result is going to leave us in a tricky position.”

    One month later, Morocco will travel to Côte d’Ivoire for a match that could well be decisive: “I hope that’ll be the case. We have to beat Gabon first, and then prepare for the last match, which we hope will see us qualify for Russia 2018.”

    Daring to dream

    Renard is optimistic about his side’s qualification chances: “We’re in a better situation now than we were in September. We had two tough matches against Mali and came through them really well. There are only two points separating third from first in the group and the top three can still all qualify for Russia. I think it’s the most solid and best organised team that will end up going through, and I hope that team is Morocco.”

    The former Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire boss is well aware how much the Morocco fans want to see their team back on the big stage: “The whole country’s dreaming about it. The people of Morocco really believe we can qualify. The whole atmosphere has changed especially after the return game against Mali. Everyone knows it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to do all we can to take the country to the finals for the first time in 20 years.

    “I ask every Morocco fan to support us with all their might, like they did against Mali in Rabat. I’m sure that the atmosphere will be even hotter for the Gabon game in Casablanca. If we want to win the game, then we need to start on the front foot.”

    Morocco’s remaining Russia 2018 qualifying fixtures:

    7 October: Gabon (h)

    6 November: Côte d’Ivoire (a)

  • WC2018 Qualifiers: Morocco squad list vs Gabon

    (TheAtlasLions.com) Morocco coach Herve Renard has selected 26 players for the upcoming World Cup 2018 qualifier against Gabon. The match will be played at Complexe Mohamed V in Casablanca on Saturday Oct 7th.

    Here is the squad list:

    1-Munir El Kajoui - Numancia

    2-Yassine Bounou - Girona

    3-Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti - IRT

    4-Nabil Dirar - Fenerbahce

    5-Achraf Hakimi - Real Madrid

    6-Marouane Da Costa - Başakşehir

    7-Mehdi Benatia - Juventus

    8-Ghanim Romain Saiss - Wolverhampton

    9-Hamza Mendil - Lille

    10-Jaouad Yamiq - RCA

    11-Mohammed Nahiri - WAC

    12-Karim El Ahmadi - Feyenoord Rotterdam

    13-Youssef Ait Bennasser - Caen

    14-Mbark Boussoufa - Al-Jazira

    15-Younes Belhanda - Galatasaray

    16-Faycal Fajr - Getafe

    17-Amine Harit - Schalke 04

    18-Nordin Amrabat - Leganes FC

    19-Hakim Ziyech - Ajax Amsterdam

    20-Oussama Tannane - Las Palmas

    21-Mohammed Ounajjem - WAC

    22-Ismail Haddad - WAC

    23-Mahi Mimoun - FC Groningen

    24-Khalid Boutaib - Yeni Malatyaspor

    25-Aziz Bouhaddouz - St Pauli

    26-Rachid Alioui - Nimes.

  • CAF CL: Wydad advance to CAF Champions League semis

    (Xinhua) -- Morocco's Wydad Casablanca advanced late on Saturday to the CAF Champions League semifinals after defeating Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 3-2 on penalties.

    At the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, the Moroccan champions dominated the match, but were only able to score once at the 26th minute through midfielder Salah Saidi.

    The first leg of the quarterfinal in South Africa ended with the same score 1-0 for Mamelodi.

    Wydad Casablanca qualified for the second straight time to the CAF Champions League semifinals.

    The Moroccan side aim to win their second Champions League title after claiming their first crown back in 1992.

  • CAF Confed Cup: FUS Rabat book CAF Confed Cup semi-final spot

    (AfricanFootball.com) FUS Rabat were beaten 1-0 by CS Sfaxien in the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup quarter-final second-leg match at the Stade Taïeb Mhiri in Tunisia on Friday.

    But Moroccan outfit Rabat booked their place in the semi-finals after winning 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw on aggregate with Tunisian side Sfaxien crashing out of the competition.

    Sfaxien, who were trailing on aggregate after losing 1-0 in the first-leg game in Morocco last weekend, were awarded an early penalty.

    The hosts took the lead through Karim Aouadhi's effort from the spot-kick making it 1-0 to Sfaxien in the 23rd minute.

    The score was 1-0 to Sfaxien at half-time and 1-1 on aggregate following a lively first-half in the city of Sfax.

    Jose Mota, the Sfaxien head coach, brought in attack minded players in the second-half as hosts looked to double their lead.

    However, Rabat were soild at the back and ultimately, the match ended 1-0 in favour of Sfaxien and a penalty shootout followed as the tie was locked at 1-1 on aggregate.

    Rabat won 5-4 on penalties after converting all of their spot-kicks, while Aouadhi turned into a villain for the hosts as he missed the target.

    Sfaxien (1) 1 (Aouadhi 23')

    Rabat (0)

    Sfaxien: Gaaloul, Ben Salah, Mathlouthi, Aouadhi, Meriah, Sokari (Kamoun 74'), Amdouni, Mendy, Ben Ali, Hannachi (Marzouki 83'), Chaouat (Ndoye 63').

    Rabat: Majid, Sy, Khorsa, Aguerd, Semmoumy, Skouma, El Araoui (Saoud 94'), Boulhroud, Diakité, El Bassil, Yansane (Benlamachi 81')

  • NT: Netherlands hoping to snatch Amrabat from Morocco

    According to De Telegraaf, the KNVB are keeping a close eye on Feyenoord midfielder Sofyan Amrabat and hope to convince him his future is with the Dutch national team.

    The midfielder has one cap for the Moroccan national team but is yet to make his competitive debut meaning he can still represent the Netherlands, where he was born.

    According to De Telegraaf, it has not been “excluded” that the Netherlands will call-up the 21-year-old soon as they look to avoid another Hakim Ziyech scenario. Ziyech was a Netherlands U21 international but switched to Morocco after being ignored by Danny Blind.

    Dick Advocaat was present in the Philips Stadion on Sunday to see Amrabat in action during Feyenoord’s 1-0 defeat to PSV and he will be impressed by what he saw. However, with Amrabat still not holding down a first team spot in Rotterdam, Advocaat may not be able to justify his selection for the two must-win World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and Sweden. He was not in the pre-selection named on Tuesday but that could change if he impresses over the next week.

    Morocco will not give up on Amrabat without a fight and with two World Cup qualifiers coming in October they will be looking to seal his future with the Lions of the Atlas.

    It seems that Amrabat will have a big choice to make over the next few weeks.


  • Taarabt: ‘I’ve never worked so hard!’

    By Football Italia staff

    Adel Taarabt admits “I’ve never worked as hard as here in Genoa” after realising “you need to live as a real professional”.

    The Moroccan’s talent has been evident in spells with Tottenham Hotspur, Milan and Queens Park Rangers, but his commitment and lifestyle off the pitch have been more questionable.

    Having seemingly been frozen out by the Grifone, the attacking midfielder was their best player in the 1-0 defeat to Udinese last weekend.

    “It was my first real game in almost two years,” Taarabt told Il Secolo XIX.

    “I played 90 minutes and I felt good. That’s why I need to thank the Coach [Ivan Juric], the club and my teammates.

    “I had found myself training alone, then I found the courage to talk to the boss and I told him that I felt good.

    “He understood, and when I asked him for a second chance he told me that he had nothing against me. But, if I wanted this chance, I had to give him answers.

    “He gave me a week to show what I could do.

    “I worked a lot, I put in a lot of effort. A huge amount. I can say that I’ve never worked as hard as here in Genoa. So much running, so much of the ball, so much pressing…

    “And sacrificing in my private life? Yes, of course. You can’t have football and fun. It’s a job, I know that well. I had to change, you need to live as a real professional.

    “I had lost my love for football, if my team lost I’d get home and I wouldn’t care. Now if I lose I’m angry, I can’t calm down. Juric made me rediscover my love for football.

    “For a couple of years I treated it like any other job, I’d go home and switch it all off. Now I’m back to living for football.

    “I’ve changed everything, I eat well, I drink well, I live well. I go to bed early, by 11 o’clock I’m out. You can’t do what I did before, in Serie A every defeat is a drama, not like in England.

    “It was a really strict diet, I lost 11kg in three and a half months without damaging my fitness. Mamma mia, what a thought.

    “That sacrifice didn’t go to waste though, I did it all for the Grifone.”

  • CAF CL: Sundowns, Wydad ready for quarterfinal battle

    Mamelodi Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca will begin battle for a place in the CAF Champions League semifinals when they meet at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Tshwane on Sunday, kick-off at 15h00 CAT.

    The teams' first leg, quarterfinal clash promises to be a thrilling South v North African battle in which the competition's title holders will seek a strong advantage to take with them to Morocco next weekend.

    Wydad were one of the more impressive teams on show in the previous round: they topped a tough Group D ahead of eight-time champions Al Ahly and also have the honour of being the reigning Moroccan title holders.

    However, their domestic league campaign got off to a rocky start last weekend when they were beaten 3-1 at home by rivals FUS Rabat, and they will have had significantly less time to prepare for this clash in the wake of a Thursday afternoon match against Rapide Oued Zem.

    Sundowns secured their place in the last eight by finishing second behind Tunisian heavyweights Esperance de Tunis in Group C, with a record of two wins, three draws and just one defeat.

    The Brazilians will be hoping to improve on their home form: they didn’t win any of the three group matches they hosted and have also lost both of their domestic home matches so far in the 2017/18 season.

    Coach Pitso Mosimane will have to cope with a lengthy list of injuries, but his side’s victory away to Free State Stars in a domestic league game earlier this week demonstrated their strength in depth.

    "Anthony [Laffor] is on crutches, Khama [Billiat] is injured, Leo [Castro] made it through a late fitness test, [Tiyani] Mabunda is injured. We need to make sure that we look after the team. A team that played tonight is a team I trusted. If you're in the team of Mamelodi Sundowns, you have to play, there's no first team and second team,” the ‘Downs coach said after the game against Stars.

    The match in Tshwane will be handled by Ethiopian referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa. The return leg is set for Saturday 23 September at the Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca. The aggregate winners will face either Ferroviario Beira or USM Alger in the semifinals.


  • CAF Confed Cup: North African rivals Rabat and Sfaxien geared for quarterfinal battle

    North African rivals Faith Union Sport and CS Sfaxien will begin battle for a place in the last four of the CAF Confederation Cup when they face off on Saturday night.

    The teams will clash in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie at the Stade de FUS in Rabat, with kick-off set for 21h30 CAT.

    Tunisia’s CSS should be regarded as one of the favourites to win this year’s continental competition. They have the pedigree of being three-time Confed Cup champions and booked their place in the quarterfinals by topping Group B ahead of MC Alger, suffering just one defeat in the process.

    New coach Jose Mota has also overseen a strong start to their domestic 2017/18 championship, with Sfaxien recording two wins and two draws from four matches. They were last in action on Saturday with an impressive 3-1 victory at Stade Gabesien.

    Morocco’s FUS can count themselves lucky to have progressed into the final eight. They were runners-up in Group A (behind another Tunisian side, Club Africain) but finished level on points with KCCA, only edging ahead of the Ugandans on head-to-head results - they beat the East Africans 3-0 in Rabat, but lost 3-1 in Kampala, with their lone away goal proving crucial in the tie breakers.

    Yet coach Walid Regragui’s side seem to be in ominous form ahead of this Confed Cup clash: they handed Morocco’s defending champions Wydad Casablanca a football lesson when the teams met in the opening round of the country’s 2017/18 domestic season this past weekend - so much so that Wydad fans applauded FUS’s players and turned on their own, according to reports in their local media.

    South African referee Daniel Bennett will be in charge of the match in Rabat, with the return leg set for Friday 22 September at Stade Taieb Mhiri in Sfax. The aggregate winners will face either Al-Hilal Al-Ubayyid or TP Mazembe in the semifinals.


  • NT: Amine Harit switches from France to Morocco

    (ESPN.co.uk) Schalke winger Amine Harit has switched his international allegiance from France to Morocco.

    Harit, 20, was born in France and has represented the country at youth level but explained in a Facebook video why he had now opted to play for the country of his parents' birth.

    In the video, posted with the words "My choice, my country," he said: "It's not a decision that came about in the last week or two, it's one that I have thought about deeply over a year or a year-and-a-half now. It wasn't an easy decision, but I had to make this choice for a number of different reasons.

    "I think it's important for me to thank the France team and the French Football Federation because what they have given me during these last three years has been magnificent. If I'm where I am today, it's thanks to the French national team. So I'll never forget what has happened with the French team.

    "I wanted to explain my decision, it wasn't easy for me. My parents are Moroccan, I have my family and a lot of people in Morocco. I've gone to Morocco ever since I was a child to see my family. My choice today goes to Morocco, thanks or because of my family, because it was important for me to represent my family as they deserve.

    "Once again, it wasn't easy, but it was a choice I had to make. I think it's the most difficult choice I've had to make since the start of my career.

    "Today, I'm very proud, and I'd like to thank the French Football Federation once again and all the people I've met during the last three years. I'd like to wish all the Moroccan people a great day, see you soon, and I hope we'll get a victory against Gabon."

    Harit, who joined Schalke from Nantes in an €8 million deal this summer, has started all three of his new club's Bundesliga games so far this season and set up three of their five goals.

    He had represented France at levels up to under-21, and played in this summer's Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.

  • WC2018 qualifiers: Morocco's Group C remains wide open

    (Africanfootball.com) The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification Group C remains wide open with rounds left.

    African Football takes a look at the permutations in the group with two matches left in the qualifying campaign.

    Ivory Coast are still at the top Group C standings after registering a 3-0 win over Gabon in Franceville last week, before losing 2-1 to the same team at home on Tuesday.

    The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) champions have accumulated seven points from four games, while Gabon, who have never qualified for the World Cup finals, are placed third with five points.

    Second-placed Morocco recorded their maiden Group C win when they hammered Mali 6-0 at home last week, before the two sides drew 0-0 in Bamako on Tuesday.

    Morocco have participated in four World Cup finals and they are only one point behind group leaders Ivory Coast.

    Mali, who never qualified for the global tournament, are placed fourth on the group standings with two points. But just like the other teams in the group, they still have a chance to reach the 2018 finals.

    However, the Mali will have to defeat Ivory Coast and Gabon in their last two matches and hope that other results go their away.

    As things stand, Ivory Coast are the favourites to win Group C and qualify for the World Cup finals for the fourth time in history.

    Group C remaining fixtures

    6 October 2017 - Mali vs. Ivory Coast

    7 October 2017 - Morocco vs. Gabon

    6 November 2017 - Ivory Coast vs. Morocco

    6 November - Gabon vs. Mali


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