• NT: Atlas Lions on the march

    (FIFA.com) Morocco back at the World Cup following a 20-year absence

    Atlas Lions have risen to their highest position in the FIFA Ranking since 2008

    Head coach Herve Renard has masterminded the turnaround in fortunes

    Saturday 11 November 2017 will go down as a special day in the history of Moroccan football. It was on this date that the Atlas Lions clinched their place at the FIFA World Cup™ after 20 years of frustration, thanks to a 2-0 win over Côte d’Ivoire.

    The achievement also saw the Moroccan national team climb eight places in November’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, with the country currently occupying its highest position since 2008.

    Morocco’s hot streak

    Morocco’s fine recent form owes much to the hard work put in under head coach Herve Renard, who took charge of the team following spells with Ghana, as assistant to Claude Le Roy, and Zambia. Renard is also a two-time winner of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, with both the Chipolopolo and Côte d’Ivoire.

    This latest bounce in the ranking comes on the back of a series of impressive results, including a 6-0 win over Mali and a Khaled Boutaib-inspired triumph against Gabon. Then there was the aforementioned success away to Côte d’Ivoire, which booked Mehdi Benatia and his team-mates’ place at Russia 2018.

    Three key results in the Russia 2018 qualification campaign

    Morocco 6-0 Mali (1 September 2017)

    Morocco 3-0 Gabon (7 October 2017)

    Côte d’Ivoire 0-2 Morocco (11 November 2017)

    In the aftermath of the victory over Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan, Renard said: "My main target with Morocco was to qualify for the World Cup. We were a long way off this level two years ago but, thanks to the rules that we’ve set and the good understanding between the players, we’ve managed to make real progress on the pitch."

    Making a mark at the finals

    The French coach’s thoughts have now turned to the daunting challenge that lies ahead for the Atlas Lions in Russia. Morocco have been drawn in the same group as IR Iran, Portugal and Spain, and they know that more positive results will see them rise even further up the FIFA Ranking.

    Following the draw in Moscow, Herve Renard told FIFA.com: "After a 20-year absence, the Moroccan team has landed in a tricky group. We know that standards are high at the World Cup. We’re going to play against the European champions and Spain – who were the team to avoid from the second pot – not to mention Iran too."

    "We need to focus on qualifying for the Round of 16, and to not be satisfied with simply taking part. In 1986, Morocco beat Portugal. We have to go into the tournament with determination and confidence."

    Renard’s Morocco side have all the necessary tools to make a mark in Russia, including a resolute defence that did not concede a single goal in the final qualification round and a prolific attack that netted 11 times in six matches.

    Morocco’s fixtures in Russia

    Morocco-Iran (15 June, Saint Petersburg Stadium, 18:00 local time)

    Portugal-Morocco (20 June, Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, 15:00 local time)

    Spain-Morocco (25 June, Kaliningrad Stadium, 20:00 local time)

  • Moroccans Abroad: Moroccan center back leads Bianconeri to a pair of shutouts and adds his first goal of the season

    (Juventus.com) November 2017 is surely a month that Media Benatia will never forget.

    The Morocco captain led his country to their first FIFA World Cup berth since 1998 while not allowing a single goal in six games of the final round of CAF qualifying.

    He then followed that up with a pair of scintillating performances for the Bianconeri marshalling the backline to a shutout of Barcelona before putting in another hard shift in a 3-0 win over Crotone during which Benatia also found the back of the net for the first time this season.

    Benatia will be given the November EA Sports MVP of the Month award prior to Saturday's match vs Inter by a lucky Juventus Member.

  • Moroccans Abroad: Ziyech and Benatia primed to crack the FC 100 in 2018

    Ed Dove, KweséESPN

    Five African players have been included in the ESPN FC 2017, but which of the continent's star men could be primed to feature in next year's version of the list?

    In this feature, KweséESPN presents five of the continent's emerging stars who we're tipping to crack the 100 in 12 months' time.

    Hakim Ziyech: Is there any African player in the world today who can run a match as easily - and with as much sophistication - as Ziyech?

    He stepped up comfortably to life at Ajax after being signed from FC Twente at the beginning to last term, going on to contribute 11 assists and seven goals as the Amsterdam giants ran Feyenoord close for the title.

    The technical qualities and capacity for invention demonstrated by the Morocco international in the Atlas Lions' 6-0 evisceration of Mali was one of the finest individual displays by an African player in 2017, and he was also outstanding in Ajax's recent 8-0 thumping of NAC Breda.

    When Ziyech controls the contest as he did - notably - in these two fixtures, he can appear to be unplayable, and the 24-year-old has the potential to be Africa's outstanding player at the World Cup.

    Medhi Benatia's stock has fallen in recent seasons following the high of 2014, when he was signed by Bayern Munich from AS Roma.

    Back in Italy last term on loan with Juventus, the Morocco international struggled to get into the team, and didn't always look comfortable when he did feature.

    There was, therefore, some surprise when Juve made the defender's loan deal permanent - for €17 million - this summer, although the centre-back has set about repaying that faith this term.

    He excelled in the Champions League stalemate with Barcelona, and also capped another magnificent performance with a goal as Juventus beat Crotone 3-0 four days later.

    If he can continue in this vein, he could help the Old Lady forget about the departed Leonardo Bonucci, while a strong World Cup showing with Morocco could see him crack the list.

  • NT: SFA hold talks over Scotland facing Morocco in March friendly clash

    Africans look to play warm up match in Europe as boss Herve Renard preps his side for World Cup test against Spain, Portugal and Iran.

    Moroccan FA president Fouzi Lekjaa has confirmed they are in 'advanced negotiations' with the SFA for a friendly with Scotland .

    But they may now opt to move the match to Europe instead of in Africa - a continent where Scotland have never played.

    Managerless Scotland have no games planned as yet until the Nations League starts in September, with the draw not even made for that until next month.

    Morocco had originally planned to play Scotland and Argentina in Agadir in the south of the country and were exploring the possibility of hosting a mini-tournament.

    But Atlas Lions boss Herve Renard has now indicated he wants the preparation games to be in Europe after getting hit with a nightmare World Cup draw with saw them pitched in with European superpowers Spain and Portugal, as well as Iran.

    Lekjaa said: "We will have a final meeting with the technical staff and confirm our plans for the preparation matches for the World Cup.

    "Contact has been made with Scotland, Poland and Iceland and negotiations are advanced because we want to play teams whose style is the same as the countries in our group and they are all European nations.

    "The coach has indicated he wants to play in Europe to get our players who don't play in the European leagues acclimatised to playing this type of football.

    "Our goal is to be in Russia in the best possible shape, with the best possible build-up."


  • 2018 World Cup: Morocco and Iran Group B game will be their 'final'

    (BBC Africa sport) Morocco and Iran have played each other twice in the past with the Atlas Lions winning both matches including one on penalties

    Coaching staff from Morocco and Iran say their opening Group B clash on 15 June will be like a 'World Cup final.'

    The countries will also meet reigning European champions Portugal and 2010 World Cup winners Spain in Russia next year.

    "It will be like our World Cup final - we'll play like we are playing for our lives," said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.

    "The first game will be our final," Morocco assistant coach Mustapha Hadji told BBC Sport.

    "It will be a tough game because we watched Iran in qualifying and they have a very good team and a very good spirit.

    "But if we win, we have a great opportunity to reach the second round. That's what we are coming for."

    Iran were the first Asian team to qualify for next year's finals, setting the record for the most consecutive clean sheets in World Cup qualification when going 12 games - and a total of 1121 minutes - without conceding.

    Following the St Petersburg clash, Morocco face Portugal on 20 June in Moscow before a final group clash against Spain in Kaliningrad on 25 June.

    Iran, meanwhile, face Spain in Kazan on 20 June before meeting Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Saransk five days later.

    Like Iran, Morocco also relied on a strong defence in qualifying, and Queiroz - a former Real Madrid manager who coached South Africa between 2000-2002 - is under no illusions about the challenge the North Africans will provide.

    "It's a great team with fantastic players and a great coach (Herve Renard)," added Queiroz.

    "In qualifying, they did not lose one game nor concede one goal so that tells you everything about the quality of the team."

    Hadji, meanwhile, believes Morocco have nothing to lose when facing Portugal and Spain - who are ranked 3rd and 6th in the world respectively.

    "They are big nations of football and have won everything already," said the 1998 African Footballer of the Year.

    "So that's why we have nothing to lose against these two. We have to play our football and fight - actually to give everything against them - because we know that it is not going to be easy.

    "But we can surprise them," he rallied.

    Morocco, who are at their first finals since 1998 (when Hadji was playing), have previously topped a group involving Portugal, when finishing above England and Poland in the 1986 World Cup.

    "They were tough games but Morocco did it because they had the quality. Today, we have - I think - the same feeling. Not only are there quality players in the Moroccan teams but a lot of spirit too."

  • Egypt: Ahly coach extols Moroccan striker Azaro after 4-1 league win over Enppi

    (Ahram Online) After beating Enppi 4-1 in the 12th matchday of the Egyptian Premier League, Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry has praised the performance of Moroccan striker Walid Azaro who scored Ahly's third goal, ending the petroleum team's hopes of making a comeback.

    Ahly enjoyed another satisfying night in the Egyptian Premier League, easing past Enppi to register their seventh victory out of eight matches, moving to second in the table on Saturday.

    "Azaro brings lots of benefits to the team, because he's a pacey and energetic striker," El-Badry told a television programme after the game.

    "Azaro causes problems for any opponents and he is a brilliant striker." said El-Badry.

    "He also creates confidence and harmony for the team over a series of games."

  • NT: Taarabt Hopes to Play With Moroccan Team in 2018 World Cup

    By Morocco World News

    Rabat – Moroccan international midfielder Adel Taarabt has once again expressed his hope to rejoin the Moroccan football team after the World Cup final draw.

    The announcement was published in the official website of the footballer’s current team, FC Genoa, on December 1.

    “Playing against the European Champion and facing a player like Cristiano Ronaldo is something extraordinary. Not to mention Spain, a team that has dominated the world of football for 15 years,” said the 28-year-old footballer.

    Taarabt has been delivering great performances along with his Italian team after long-range efforts to regain his football skills.

    On Friday, the Moroccan team was placed in Group B along with Portugal, Iran and Spain.

    “It is a great experience for Moroccans, I hope to play with my teammates,” said the footballer.

    This is not the first time when Taarabt expressed his hope to play with his Moroccan team. In October, the footballer had expected the invitation of Herve Renard, head manager of the Moroccan team, to play in the World Cup qualifiers.

    Taarabt told beIN Sports, “I did well with Genoa to be able to rejoin the Moroccan team,” adding that “the Moroccan squad played good matches […] I hope to be invited by Herve.”

    The midfielder added that he “needs to keep working on himself like now. I am now more grown up, and I hope we can make it to the World Cup.”

  • WC 2018: Expectations High for Moroccan Team After World Cup Final Draw

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – After a nearly 20-year absence, the Atlas Lions are heading back to the 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia next summer. The Moroccan team was placed today in Group B along with its neighbor, Spain, as well as Portugal and Iran.

    The Moroccan team showed its great determination in the World Cup qualifiers against notable African opponents like Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Mali. The Moroccan team will have to keep up this determination when playing against the most toughest football teams in the world: La Roja (Spain), Portugal, and Iran.

    The Lions will play against Iran in their first match, which is scheduled to take place on June 15. Morocco’s first World Cup opponent team was ranked 32th in the recent FIFA ranking and has qualified for the World Cup five times (in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018).

    The Moroccan team has been hitting international headlines throughout the World Cup qualifiers, as they finished undefeated. The fabulous victory against Cote d’Ivoire in the last qualifier on November 11 proved the team’s great will to do better achievements in the tournament’s next phase.

    After Iran, Morocco will face Portugal on June 20, the third best team in November’s FIFA ranking. The team has made six appearances in the World Cup, in 1966, 1986, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014, with the 2018 edition to be their seventh.

    The next battle for the Moroccan Lions will be against their neighboring team, La Roja. The Morocco-Spain match is scheduled to take place on June 25.

    The Spanish team is one of the most present teams at the World Cup finals, with 14 appearances out of the 20 tournaments.

    The Moroccan team has rejoined the heroes who returned to the World tournament for the first time since 1998. “Finally, Morocco will be in Spain’s way towards reaching the group of sixteen,” wrote Spanish news outlet Marca after the World Cup final draw, which placed the Moroccan team in the same group as the Spanish team was placed (Group B).

    Calling Morocco “one of the traditional powers of Africa, which in recent times had lost relevance,” the Spanish sports site noted that the team has now regained its prestige, owing to the work done by their French coach, Herve Renard.

    The Frenchman played an eminent role in the Moroccan team’s qualification. The team also called on the most skilfull Moroccan international and local footballers, who did their utmost to defend their Moroccan jersey during the World Cup qualifiers.

    “Footballers have already accustomed to the European elite as [Mehdi] Benatia (Juventus), Achraf [Hakimi] (Real Madrid), [Nordin] Amrabat (Leganes) or [Younes] Belhanda (Galatasaray) will make the African team a complicated opponent for Lopetegui,” wrote Marca, referring to Julen Lopetegui, a former Spanish footballer and current manager of Spanish national football team.

    Lopetegui said that Spain will face “one of the most toughest teams, including the Moroccan team who excluded the Ivorian team in the World Cup qualifiers.”

    These footballers are one of the best Moroccan players, who scored many goals and mezmorized their supporters with great performances during the qualifiers along with other footballers, including Hakim, Ziyech, Nabil Dirar, Faycal Fajr, and Khalid Boutaib.

    Mustapha Hadji, former Moroccan football legend and currently the team’s assistant coach, said that the Moroccan team was placed in a “deadly group.” Hadji, who was present during the Moscow’s draw, told Moroccan radio station Mars that “[the Moroccan team] has its say during the first match, we have to negotiate it,” adding that this match will “condition the remaining course of Morocco in the World Cup.”

    “After Iran, we will manage match by match,” said the former legend. “We have our chance, we have our card to play.”

    This will be the fifth time Morocco will participate in the World Cup, after previously playing in 1970, 1986, 1994, and 1998.

  • WC 2018: Govt. and FRMF Vow All It Takes to Support Moroccan Team in World Cup

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – Morocco’s Minister of Youth and Sports Rachid Talbi Alami has full trust in the Moroccan squad who is heading to Russia next summer for the 2018 World Cup.

    Alami told Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) on the sidelines of the 2018 World Cup final draw, which took place on Friday in Moscow, that the Moroccan team has all the “assets to play a leading role in the final phases of the World Cup,” scheduled to take place from June 14 to July 15.

    Despite being placed in a “deadly group” (group B) along with Spain, Portugal, and Iran, Alami believes that the Moroccan team is a strong one and has players that are capable of leading a distinguished participation in Russia.

    He added that both Morocco’s Football Federation (FRMF) and his ministry are mobilized to provide the necessary support for the team in order “to achieve the hopes and aspirations of the Moroccan people.”

    Alami has also recalled the eminent role of the Moroccan fans, who have been supporting their teams throughout the qualifiers.

    Alami also said that the government will take measures with Royal Air Maroc to transport Moroccan fans willing to cheer on their team in Russia through “under best conditions.”

    The Atlas Lions will face their Iranian opponent on June 15 in Saint Petersburg. The team will then play two other decisive matches on June 20 and June 25 against Portugal and Spain, respectively.

    This will be the fifth time Morocco will participate in the World Cup, after previously playing in 1970, 1986, 1994, and 1998.

  • WC 2018: Queiroz challenges Iran to sack him

    (SuperSport.com) Carlos Queiroz has challenged Iran's football authorities to remove him from his post as head coach of the country's World Cup-bound national team if they do not appreciate his public criticism of preparations for next year's finals in Russia.

    Iran have been drawn to face Queiroz's native Portugal as well as Spain and Morocco in group B, but the former Real Madrid coach has renewed calls for the country's authorities to do more to support his team's bid for a place in the second round.

    "I'm here to say Iran needs special local preparations," the 64-year-old said in a video posted on his Facebook page after Friday's World Cup draw in Moscow.

    "I don't care about the threats and what they have been trying to do to stop me talking. The Iranian fans deserve special World Cup preparations. We need to implement special preparations to bring honour and pride.

    "They can fire me, I don't care, but it's time to express my opinion because the Iranian fans deserve that and the players deserve full support to be ready for this competition."

    Queiroz has already fallen foul of Iranian authorities with his demand for more financial and logistical support for his team since they became the first Asian nation to book their ticket for Russia in June.

    But Alex Ferguson's former assistant remains a hugely popular figure with Iranian football fans after securing back-to-back World Cup qualifications for the country for the first time in their history.

    However, Iran have exited the competition at the end of the group stage on each of their previous four appearances at the finals and Queiroz has set his sights on a place in the round of 16 in Russia.

    "The draw is very exciting and very attractive and could not be better," he said of the task that lies ahead of his team.

    "To play against Spain, Portugal and Morocco will be a great opportunity for our players to show why they are here and especially to show that they deserve to be here.

    "I'm sure we are going to do well. We are going to be competitive as always and no matter what happens in each game, I'm sure our fans will be proud and happy with the team.

    "From the players' point of view, I'm sure they are very excited to play against Portugal and Spain and also Morocco, because it's a unique and rare opportunity for Iranian players to play against such great players and such great teams."


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