• ‘Morocco Deserved Better’: Spain’s Casillas and Italy’s Del Piero

    By Morocco World News

    Rabat – Morocco’s loss to Portugal yesterday sealed the Atlas Lions’ fate, ending their 2018 World Cup. After such an early exit, football legends Iker Casillas and Alessandro Del Piero have said the Atlas Lions “deserved better.”

    Iker Casillas, who made his mark on the game as a Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper, captaining the Spanish side that conquered Europe and the world from 2008 to 2012, said that it is unbelievable that a team of Morocco’s caliber could lose twice in a row and not even score once.

    Morocco lost to Iran June 15 with a 95th minute own goal.

    The Spaniard pointed out that the quality in Morocco’s squad and the impressive performances they delivered in their two appearances make it “unbelievable” that they could have such a disappointing world cup.

    “I think it is unbelievable that Morocco did not secure even one point in its two matches. But it is even more unbelievable that they have not scored a single goal,” the former Real Madrid stopper said.

    “But this is football!” he exclaimed.

    For his part, former Italy and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero slightly criticized the Atlas Lions for lacking sharpness and effectiveness in their finishes. He said that it is a pity that a team could play as the Atlas Lions did and yet fail to claim even one point.

    “Cruel World Cup for Morocco. First the Iran joke, then Cristiano punished you when you were least focused,” the Italian legend said. “Two solid matches, good organization, impressive football, but zero point. That’s a pity, you deserved better!”

    Portugal’s Coach Fernando Santos echoed similar feelings during yesterday’s post-match press conference, saying that Morocco’s pressure and good organization damaged the confidence of Portuguese players.

    While such opinions will not reverse Morocco’s standing in Group B, it is surely a consolation for many Moroccan fans that the Atlas Lions’ solid performance has won them the respect and admiration of international fans and observers.

    However, such public acclaim for quality football and teamwork put an even stronger pressure on Moroccan players when facing Spain on Monday, June 25. With no qualification at stake in the Spain game, the Lions will still have to score to end the contest with honor.

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  • Russia 2018: FIFA issues statement after 'questionable' Amrabat decision

    Nordin Amrabat was selected to play for Morocco just five days after sustaining a concussion in the defeat to Iran and FIFA has responded.

    FIFA has dubbed Morocco's decision to play Nordin Amrabat against Portugal as 'questionable', following the concussion sustained in the defeat to Iran.

    Amrabat was forced off during Morocco's Group B defeat to Iran on Friday following a clash of heads, which led to the Watford midfielder sustaining memory loss and spending the night in hospital.

    FIFA guidelines suggest a minimum of six days on the sidelines after concussion but do not have authority to enforce their ruling, with the final decision resting with the team doctors.

    While Amrabat started the game against Portugal wearing a protective cap, the 31-year-old discarded it after just a few minutes and his selection attracted widespread criticism.

    "Following the questionable handling of the concussion incident involving the Moroccan player, [Nordin] Amrabat, during the Morocco-Iran match, FIFA wrote to the Moroccan team doctor to remind him of the importance to adhere to the guidelines that have been communicated," FIFA said in a statement.

    "While the assessment and case management of concussion incidents falls under the sole responsibility of the respective team doctors, FIFA will address this matter with the Moroccan FA and, speaking in general terms, FIFA will monitor closely this matter throughout the competition."

    FIFA added that the Moroccan Football Federation would need to explain why Amrabat was allowed to play against Portugal, while FIFPro, the world players' union, condemned Amrabat's involvement in their own statement.

    "This is yet another alarming example of a player being put in harm's way. Amrabat returned to action too soon according to medical guidelines," they said on Twitter.

    "Four years on from the debacle of the last World Cup, where several players did not receive adequate care, football has not made sufficient progress in concussion management. Calls to implement world-class standards have been overlooked."

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  • World Cup 2018: Fifa deny referee asked for Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirt at half-time of Portugal vs Morocco

    Fifa have denied claims that the referee of the Portugal vs Morocco game on Wednesday afternoon asked for Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirt at half time of the Group B encounter.

    Morocco’s Watford midfielder Nordin Amrabat told Dutch television that he heard from Portugal defender Pepe that American referee Mark Geiger asked for Ronaldo’s shirt at half time in the ill-tempered game.

    “I do not know what he is used to,” Amrabat said to NOS about the referee following the 1-0 defeat. “But he was very impressed with Cristiano Ronaldo and I hear from (Portugal defender) Pepe that he asked (Ronaldo) in the first half if he could have (Pepe's) shirt.

    “What are we talking about? At the World Cup? It’s not a circus here.”

    However, Fifa have strongly refuted the claims and added a mild rebuke in the direction of Morocco, reminding them to “respect all principles of Fair Play”.

    In a statement, they said: “It is with regret and disappointment that, following yesterday’s Group B game between Portugal and Morocco, Fifa has learnt of reports in the media concerning the referee Mark Geiger Mark Geiger.

    “It has been claimed that Mr Geiger asked for the shirt of the captain of Portugal during the half-time interval. Mr Geiger strongly refutes these claims and categorically states that such a request was not made.

    “Fifa unequivocally condemns the allegations supposedly made by a member of the Moroccan team. Fifa referees are under clear instructions with regard to their behaviour and relationship with the teams at the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia and it can be confirmed that Mr Geiger has acted in an exemplary and professional manner as an appointed match official.

    “Fifa would like to remind teams of their duty to respect all principles of Fair Play.”

    https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/world-cup-2018-cristiano-ronaldo-shirt-portugal-vs-morocco-referee-pepe-a8409786.html

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  • Benatia: 'Ziyech should join Roma'

    By Football Italia staff

    Medhi Benatia confirmed he has advised his Morocco teammate Hakim Ziyech to snub Ajax and Liverpool. “I hope he joins Roma.”

    The 25-year-old creative midfielder is looking to leave Amsterdam this summer and has been heavily linked with both Liverpool and the Giallorossi.

    “I hope he joins Roma,” Juventus defender Benatia told reporters at the 2018 World Cup after Morocco’s defeat to Portugal.

    “I know that Roma are considering Ziyech. He is a great player with incredible quality. I told him that Roma is a special club where he can do well, their fans are great and very passionate.”

    Ziyech scored nine goals with 18 assists in 39 competitive games for Ajax this season.

    Benatia knows the Roma atmosphere well, as he played at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013-14.

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  • NT: Teary Hervé Renard Proud of Atlas Lions, Angry at Referee

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – “We need to congratulate the players, they were fantastic!” said a very emotional and proud Hervé Renard to beIN Sport after the remarkable performance of the national team against Portugal, despite its defeat (1-0).

    The Atlas Lions tried everything, but failed to score against Portugal and their football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored in the 4th minute of the match.

    However, the Moroccan team dominated the ball with 63 percent possession against 37 percent for Portugal.

    Moroccan striker Nordin Amrabat, who suffered a head injury during the Iran-Morocco game, was called the man of the game, and he well deserved it for his fabulous attacking skills, showing great determination to make history again.

    The Atlas Lions prevented the Portuguese team from scoring another goal with pressure, great defense, and strength.

    After the confrontation, with tears in his eyes, the coach of the national team did not hold back his opinion on the referee.

    “You have to look at number 3 (Pepe) in slow motion, I think everything is said.” Renard was referring to the hand of the Portuguese central defender, which was not called out by Referee Geiger or his assistants. According to Renard, Pepe’s move deserved a penalty in favor of Morocco in the 85th minute.

    Moreover, in a press conference, Hervé Renard expressed his pride in coaching the Moroccan team.

    “We are a team that plays football, we demonstrated it again.”

    He also wanted to thank the million Moroccans who supported the Atlas Lions during the competition, making it feel like Benatia and his teammates “were playing at Casablanca.”

    Despite their elimination from the World Cup competition, Renard’s Lions will face their last opponent Spain, on June 25.

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  • 1-0: Morocco Lost to Portugal after Spectacular Performance

    (Morocco World News) Rabat – The Atlas Lions roared in their second 2018 World Cup game against Portugal. The Moroccan team, however, was not lucky enough to score against the Portuguese squad after Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the 4th minute of the match.

    The Moroccan football team challenged the Portuguese team with their counter-attacks and defensive skills during the game against Portugal. All players delivered a solid performance throughout the game, but missed multiple opportunities to beat Ronaldo’s team.

    Moroccan striker Nordin Amrabat, who suffered a head injury during the Iran-Morocco game, was called the man of the game, and he well deserved it for his fabulous attacking skills, showing great determination to make history again.

    Morocco’s head coach, Hervé Renard, made two changes during the second half of the game, exchanging Khalid Boutaib with Ayoub El Kaabi and Younes Belhanda with Mehdi Carcela.

    The Atlas Lions prevented the Portuguese team from scoring another goal with pressure, great defense, and strength.

    The Moroccan team dominated the ball with 63 percent possession against 37 percent for Portugal.

    Morocco lost their first game against Iran Friday after an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz in the extra time of the second half.

    The Atlas Lions had more shots (4) on target than they did in their first game against Iran. Moroccan fans can be proud of their team.

    The game’s referee did not award the Moroccan team a free kick after Portugal’s Raphaël Guerreiro pushed Amrabat in the penalty zone.

    Morocco’s striker Mehdi Benatia also missed two golden opportunities to score. Moroccan sports analysts said that the changes in the second half, referring to the exchange of Belhanda with Mehdi Carcela.

    Cameras surrounding Luzhniki stadium in Moscow showed some Moroccan fans crying after the game.

    Morocco has only one game left to play against Spain on June 25.

    Morocco does not have any chance to move to the next round of the 2018 World Cup after losing its first and second game. Senegal, which won 2-1 against Poland, is the only African to win its first 2018 World Cup game.

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  • WC 2018: Morocco eliminated from the World Cup

    (TheAtlasLions.com)

    Final Whistle!

    94' Corner for Portugal

    93' Benatia shoots off target

    5 minutes of additional time

    90' Corner for Morocco

    90' Good chance for Ziyech

    86' El Ahmadi replaced by Fayçal Fajr

    84' Free-kick for Portugal

    80' Dirar shoots off target

    80' Corner for Morocco

    79' Corner for Morocco

    78' Benatia heads wide

    77' Free-kick for Morocco

    75' Belhanda replaced by Mehdi Carcela

    69' Ayoub El Kaabi replaced Khalib Boutaib

    67' Free-kick for Morocco taken by Ziyech

    62' Free-kick for Portugal

    60' Free-kick for Morocco taken by Boussoufa and Benatia shoots wide

    57' Free-kick for Morocco taken by Ziyech

    56' Free-kick for Morocco taken by Ziyech and great header by Belhanda blocked by the goalkeeper

    55' Belhanda shoots in the hands of the goalkeeper

    51' Ronaldo shoots wide

    47' Corner for Portugal

    Second half is underway!

    Half Time!

    45+2 Free-kick for Morocco

    3 minutes of additional time!

    39' Save by Munir!

    37' Free-kick for Morocco

    35' Free-kick for Morocco taken by Ziyech

    34' El Ahmadi shoots off target

    32' Corner for Portugal

    31' Free-kick for Portugal

    23' Ziyech shoots in the hands of the goalkeeper

    20' Corner for Morocco

    18' Ziyech's shot blocked

    14' Da Costa heads wide

    13' Corner for Morocco

    11' Da Costa heads in the hands of the goalkeeper

    10' Boussoufa's header goes wide

    9' Another chance for Ronaldo

    4' Goal for Portugal by Ronaldo

    4' Another corner for Portugal

    4' Corner for Portugal

    2' Boutaib's header goes wide

    Match is underway!

    Manuel Da Costa plays today, who is familiar with a number of this team from his time in the Portuguese youth system, while Nabil Dirar returns from injury. He has also opted for Khalid Boutaib up top.

    Competition: World Cup 2018 - Group Stage

    Kickoff: 12h00 GMT, 14h00 CET

    Location: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

    Starting line ups:

    Morocco:

    12-EL KAJOUI,2-HAKIMI,4-DA COSTA,5-BENATIA (C),7-ZIYACH,8-EL AHMADI,10-BELHANDA,13-BOUTAIB,14-BOUSSOUFA,16-N. AMRABAT,17-DIRAR

    Portugal:

    1-RUI PATRICIO,3-PEPE,5-RAPHAEL,6-FONTE,7-RONALDO,8-J. MOUTINHO,10-J. MÁRIO,11-BERNARDO,14-WILLIAM,17-G. GUEDES,21-CÉDRIC.

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  • Opposition Scouting Report: How can Morocco defeat Portugal?

    Introduction

    Portugal have developed a reputation of being difficult to beat, and they have a real doggedness and resilience about them.

    With Cristiano Ronaldo, they boast a genuine elite superstar, while they also offer experience and the nous of how to win major tournaments.

    However, with an ageing defence, how will they cope with pace and dynamism, and how would they fare if Ronaldo has an off day?

    Their 3-3 draw with Spain had it all, and while La Roja were the better side, Ronaldo reminded the watching world how lethal he can be on the big occasion.

    Ex-Zambia assistant coach and current Queens Park Rangers analyst Irfan Kawri outlines how Morocco can silence Ronaldo and neutralise Portugal.

    How can Morocco neutralise Portugal's strengths?

    Ronaldo showcased his many qualities against Spain, particularly his pace, and ability to drive and link-up play quickly in transition.

    He was the main out-ball for his team, and at times Portugal went long and direct to him.

    On a number of occasions, he peeled out wide to the left and got on the ball.

    He was the main threat for his team and if Morocco can keep him quiet, they have a real chance...but how do they do that?

    The Atlas Lions have to get tight and make life difficult for him. They must be aggressive, and get in his face.

    Spain's expansive possession-based approach suited Ronaldo, as he had space to exploit in transition. Morocco must completely reduce this space.

    For the first few minutes against Spain, Portugal did surprise me as they really went for it and committed a number of player forward, including full-back Raphael Guerreiro.

    They attacked Spain, and got their reward early.

    After the goal, there was a period in the first half where Portugal showed their good organisation off the ball, with two banks of four and the two ahead.

    Both Ronaldo and Goncalo Guedes sat in and never pressed the Spain centre-backs. Instead, they dropped as Portugal employed a middle-to-low block.

    They were compact, resilient, and had good distances between the lines, at least for the first half an hour.

    With this approach, it is imperative that Morocco move the ball quickly and get it in wide areas early, particularly if the switch of play is on.

    Portugal showed some really good counter-attacking play, finding themselves in good positions quickly after retrieving the ball.

    It is important that Morocco do not over commit and have balance and security to their play, otherwise Portugal can hurt them. Spain certainly found themselves in 2v2 and 3v2 overload situations far too often.

    In possession, the left-back Guerreiro got in good attacking positions, supporting the play with his mobility and dynamism.

    Morocco must be wary of a potential 2v1 on their right-back - likely Nabil Dirar - and make sure he has cover and support. The absence of Nordin Amrabat, their most impressive player against Iran, could prove costly here.

    Portugal proved they can be tactically flexible, and Fernando Santos effectively changed things up with offensive substitutions against Spain. Herve Renard must be wary of the changing shape and face of the game as it develops.

    How can Morocco exploit Portugal's weaknesses?

    Both Pepe and Jose Fonte can be got at, just look at Diego Costa's first goal as he bullied the former, outmuscling him, he then twisted and turned Fonte in a tight space before scoring after making space with his footwork.

    In Khalid Boutaib, do Morocco have a player who can bully the centre-backs in a similar way?

    Apart from Ronaldo, there was not that much attacking threat as Portugal only had the three attempts at goal which were all CR7's goals.

    They heavily rely on Ronaldo, and if he does have an off-day this could jeopardise their chances of winning. As noted above, Morocco must exploit and expose this over-reliance.

    After the first half hour against Spain, La Roja began to find some rhythm and exploit the space Portugal left between the lines.

    Spain's movement, interchange and combination play began to get the better of Portugal, and this kind of intricacy and speed of passing is not necessarily beyond Morocco.

    With the left-back Guerreiro bombing on down his flank, there was a massive space in behind which left Fonte exposed.

    If Morocco can hit this space early, they can demonstrate their offensive qualities and pick at Portugal's weakest centre-back.

    Morocco can really get at both Pepe and Fonte with quick play in and around their feet. They must run-in behind, down the sides, in the channels and drive at them to expose those creaking legs.

    In the second-half, there were times when the midfield four pushed ahead off the ball, but the back four didn't join them, leaving too much space between the lines.

    This has the potential to be a gift for Morocco, and is a glaring weakness that Renard must exploit. If they can use that space, they can isolate the centre-backs one on one.

    Conclusion

    Portugal did demonstrate their ability to have a good defensive shape and be organised off the ball for periods and had good moments on the counter, but Spain, when they got going, showed how their neighbours can be troubled.

    Ronaldo was the European champions' saving grace and helped mask their failings.

    If Morocco can stop him - easier said than done - then Portugal's goal threat beyond him looks limited.

    http://global.espn.com/football/morocco/story/3535265/world-cup-how-can-morocco-defeat-portugal

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  • Mor vs Por: Portugal boss Santos wary of under-pressure Morocco

    Portugal manager Fernando Santos has warned his team about the threat Morocco will pose in Wednesday's World Cup Group B fixture.

    Morocco's 1-0 defeat by Iran has put them under pressure to secure a positive result and revive their chances of progressing to the knockout stages.

    Portugal's 3-3 draw with Spain also leaves them in an uncertain position, but although they remain favourites finish in the top two alongside their neighbours, Santos recognises the danger involved in Wednesday's meeting (Live on RTÉ2, 1pm).

    Morocco were expected to be their biggest rivals for second place, behind Spain, and the 63-year-old told FIFA's official website: "The Morocco team is very good; one of the best African squads. They're very good and have players who've been playing mostly in Europe.

    "They're very well organised, they know the game technically and tactically. They've always played to their full intensity on the pitch and we have to respond to that.

    "Portugal's ready. We have to do what we've done so far; give our best in terms of concentration, and respond to the opponents' intensity. It's a very important game because nothing's been decided.

    "We've thought about what we did (against Spain) - the good things, the less good things. We've tried to continue improving what we did well and rectify what we didn't do so well, but it's two or three days, we don't have magic dust.

    "I hope Cristiano (Ronaldo) will play a great match. We're used to that almost, not only in the last match but his career as a whole. I hope he and our team are ready, and we'll be able to face a strong team like Morocco. But I've never seen a player win a game on his own."

    Santos refused to reveal if he would make changes to his team, but he was joined at Tuesday's press conference by Pepe, who added: "They're strong as a whole. It's a good team; they fight quite well, and work very well and are very well trained.

    "It's nothing new, about Cristiano Ronaldo. We had a fantastic match and it's very important he's so humble on the pitch to help the team and the country. We're very happy with him and his performance.

    "I hope this is going to be a good match for us. We are representing our country, and this is the most important thing right now to all of us."

    Morocco manager Herve Renard said of the in-form Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick against Spain, to L'Equipe: "Those who try to mount a plan against him, he always manages to find something to make the difference.

    "He's an exceptional player. The word may not even be strong enough, but we must do everything to make it less exceptional.

    "If we put three (players) on Ronaldo, they have so much offensive quality.

    "If it only happens once in our lives to play Cristiano Ronaldo, you have to be the best you can."

    https://www.rte.ie/sport/world-cup-2018/2018/0619/971754-portugal-boss-santos-wary-of-under-pressure-morocco/

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  • Mor vs Por: Planning for Ronaldo might prove futile, says Morocco coach

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Even the best laid plans to limit the influence of Cristiano Ronaldo might not be enough for Morocco when they come up against Portugal at the World Cup in Moscow, coach Herve Renard said on the eve of the Group B game.

    Morocco are looking for an upset win over the European champions at the Luzhniki Stadium to realistically keep alive their interest in the tournament but mindful that the genius of the Portugal captain could send them toward an early exit.

    Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in Portugal's opening 3-3 draw with Spain, while Morocco lost 1-0 to Iran who top the group.

    “Even if you conjure up the best plans to halt Ronaldo, he will find a way to break free. He always makes the difference, at the minimum to put his side on the right track and at best to win the game for them," the French-born coach said on Tuesday.

    “He’s absolutely outstanding, exceptional and we might not be good enough to keep him out. But we have to do our utmost to make him less exceptional tomorrow,” Renard added at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

    The Morocco coach might consider taking a leaf out of Iceland's play book after they had up to three players at times harrying Lionel Messi and restricting his ability to play.

    It was a ploy that played a large part in the surprise 1-1 Group D draw that Iceland forced against Argentina on Saturday.

    “Well if you have three players watching Ronaldo, what about looking after their other players?” asked Renard.

    “They have so many attacking players, we are playing against European champions tomorrow. Don’t forget in the final of Euro 2016 against France, Ronaldo went off early in the game through injury and his team mates were still able to take the title.

    "Obviously he’s a major player and, together with Messi, the biggest star in this tournament.

    “What we need to do, is get a good night’s sleep and if this is the last time in our careers that we play against Ronaldo, we need to be as good as possible,” Renard said.

    Ronaldo’s hat-trick against Spain on Friday underlined his superstar status and sparked the tournament into life.

    Morocco, who conceded a stoppage time own goal to lose against Iran in their opener, cannot afford a second defeat.

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