• Transfers: Arsenal given huge boost in pursuit of star Serie A centre-back

    (Team Talk) Arsenal’s chances of landing Mehdi Benatia have been given a boost, according to Calciomercato.

    The centre-back joined Juventus in 2016, but could be set to leave after just two seasons.

    Calciomercato claims that Juventus are searching for replacements in case Benatia does depart – but he is not yet on the transfer list.

    Arsenal are interested in the 31-year-old, but they face competition from Benatia’s first club, Marseille.

    The Morocco captain could be considering his future after the World Cup.

    He made 20 appearances for Max Allegri’s side this season, less than fellow centre-backs Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini.

    Juventus would likely want more than £20m for the defender, who scored two goals in this season’s Coppa Italia final.

    Arsenal are also hopeful of signing another Juventus defender, Stephan Lichtsteiner, on a free transfer, when his contract expires in June.

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  • World Cup Group B preview: Atlas Lions look forward to upsetting group favourites with compact defense

    (Xinhua) -- Led by two-time Africa Cup of Nations winning coach Herve Renard, Morocco will return to the World Cup after an absence of 20 years. The Atlas Lions will be hoping to repeat their achievement from the 1986 World Cup when they surged into the last 16.

    Unusually for a national team, over half the players heading to Russia were born outside of Morocco, in either France, Spain, or the Netherlands. However, FIFA rules on nationality and citizenship allow them to represent the north African country internationally.

    Renard's side are grouped with the 2010 World Cup winners Spain, European Championship title holders Portugal and Asian powerhouse Iran in a tough Group B. With the Iberian duo widely considered strong favorites to progress far into the knock-out stages of the tournament, the Atlas Lions arrive in Russia as considerable underdogs, and will have to play very well to be in with a chance of making the last 16.

    In the face of such tough opposition, a defensive style of play will be the order of the day, which Morocco have been well versed in recent months.

    In their last round of qualification, Renard's men finished top of a group containing Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon and Mali, maintaining a six-game unbeaten run without conceding a single goal and scoring 11 in the process.

    Under the management of Renard, the only man to ever win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries (Zambia and Cote d'Ivoire), the Atlas Lions play possession-based football and press aggressively in defence.

    Juventus center-back Medhi Benatia, 31, anchors a well-rounded and organized defense and is certainly the most decorated squad member. A former Italian Serie A all-star player, Benatia also captains the team and his leadership both on and off the pitch will be crucial to any success the Atlas Lions have. Benatia will face his former Bayern Munich teammate Thiago when Morocco take on Spain.

    Further forward, 25-year-old Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech is the fulcrum of Morocco's attacking play. The former Netherlands U-21 international scored nine goals and made a league-leading 15 assists in the Dutch Eredivisie this season, being named Dutch Footballer of the Year for his troubles. Morocco will be looking to his vision and creativity if they are to spring any surprises in Russia.

    Elsewhere, rising star Achraf Hakimi has just lifted the Champions League trophy with La Liga giants Real Madrid. The Spanish-born wing-back made his senior debut for the Los Blancos earlier this season and has proven an able deputy for Dani Carvajal.

    On the only previous occasion Morocco advanced into the World Cup's second stage, they held England and Poland to goalless draws before defeating Portugal to top their group. And if the Atlas Lions are to repeat the heroics of 32 years ago in Russia this summer, perhaps another victory against Portugal may be necessary.

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  • Moroccans Abroad: Amine Harit is “Rookie of the season”

    A few weeks before the World Cup, Amine Harit has received an extra bit of motivation. The Morocco international has been voted the Bundesliga’s “Rookie of the Season”. The 20-year-old saw off seven other nominees to claim the title.

    Also in contention were Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Dan-Axel Zagadou, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Sebastian Haller, HSV pair Jann-Fiete Arp and Tatsuya Ito, VfB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard and Hertha BSC’s Valentino Lazaro.

    Harit’s victory is also backed up by the numbers. No other Bundesliga player dribbled past more players than Harit who had 115 successful dribbles over the course of the season. The Schalke man was seemingly impossible to stop through fair means as both he and Kevin-Prince Boateng were fouled a joint league best 94 times this season, an average of once every 24 minutes.

    Only set-piece takers Daniel Caligiuri and Bastian Oczipka created more shooting chances than Harit in the team and Harit created the most clear goalscoring opportunities out of any member of the Knappen’s squad.

    https://schalke04.de/en/inside-en/amine-harit-rookie-season/

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  • Transfers: Roma talks for Ziyech

    By Football Italia staff

    Dutch reports claim Roma are in negotiations for both Ajax talents Justin Kluivert and Hakim Ziyech.

    The interest is not new, but Dutch site vi.nl claim that 25-year-old Ziyech is edging closer to the Giallorossi.

    The creative midfielder has said several times he wants to leave this summer and would welcome a move to Roma.

    Ajax are more likely to let Ziyech leave than his teammate, 19-year-old striker Kluivert – the son of ex-Milan forward Patrick Kluivert.

    Ziyech is a Morocco international, born in the Netherlands, who has an impressive seven goals in 13 senior caps.

    Roma already bolstered their squad today by signing 20-year-old Croatian talent Ante Coric from Dinamo Zagreb for €8m.

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  • WC 2018 warming ups: Iran defeated and Portugal held by Tunisians in friendlies

    Turkey national football team defeated Iran 2-1 in a friendly match thanks to Cenk Tosun brace Monday night.

    Meanwhile Portugal have surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to Tunisia in their World Cup warm-up friendly in Braga this evening.

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  • Transfers: Al Dhafra sign Attouchi

    Gulf News

    Abu Dhabi: Al Dhafra have signed Moroccan defender Amine Attouchi from Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca on a three-year deal.

    The 26-year-old is the club’s third signing after Portuguese forward Helder Guedes joined from Portugal’s Rio Ave last week followed by Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Milesi from Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.

    Al Dhafra finished just one point above the relegation zone last season and have since replaced Macedonian coach Gjoko Hadzievski with Serbian Vuk Rasovic. They look to confirm their fourth and final foreigner this week.

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  • WC 2018: Hakimi in confident World Cup mood after Champions League record

    By Oluwashina Okeleji

    BBC Sport

    Morocco international Achraf Hakimi heads to the World Cup in confident mood after becoming the first player from his country to win the Uefa Champions League.

    Real Madrid defender Hakimi, 19, enjoyed a breakthrough season with the Spanish giants and has expressed his joy at becoming a European winner.

    "Champions League win is a dream come true," Hakimi, who made two appearances in the tournament this season, said on Twitter.

    Wrapped in a Moroccan flag, the player also took to Instagram to revel in the historic feat.

    "For all the family sacrifice, it's an unforgettable moment."

    Back in December he became only the sixth African to join an illustrious list of Real Madrid scorers, alongside Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), Javier Balboa (Equatorial Guinea), Mahamadou Diarra (Mali), Michael Essien (Ghana) and Geremi (Cameroon).

    Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o and Cape Verde's Valmiro Lopes Rocha both failed to score for the 13-time European champions in an official match.

    Back in October, Achraf made his debut against Espanyol, becoming the first Moroccan to play for Real Madrid and the youngest player in La Liga this season - at 18 years 10 months 27 days.

    He also started for Zinedine Zidane's side in this season's home and away Champions League matches against Tottenham Hotspur.

    He made 17 appearances in all competitions this season.

    Born in Madrid and eligible for Spain, Achraf represented Morocco at youth levels before Atlas Lions manager Herve Renard handed him a senior debut in a 4-0 friendly win against Canada in October 2016.

    Achraf made four appearances and scored once in the 6-0 annihilation of Mali as Morocco sealed 2018 World Cup qualification.

    He is in the team's final 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia.

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  • Champions League: Achraf #Hakimi crowned champion with Real Madrid & becomes the first Morocco 🇲🇦 international to win the prestigious tournament.

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  • WC 2018: More than 10,000 Moroccan Fans will Support Atlas Lions in Russia

    Over 10,000 Moroccans fans will travel to Russia to support the Atlas Lions in their World Cup games.

    Head of the Moroccan government Saad Eddine El Othmani said on his facebook account that 8500 will travel from Morocco while 3000 members of the Moroccan diaspora will join them in support of the national squad.

    El Othmani was on a stop in Russia on his way back to Morocco from a trip in South Korea.

    Morocco was pitched in a difficult Group B with the last two European champions Spain and Portugal in addition to Iran.

    Morocco made its way through the qualifications for the World Cup without conceding a single goal. The return of the Atlas Lions to the World stages comes after twenty years of absence following a heartbreaking elimination from the group stage at France’98.

    Morocco’s team has built its game on solid defense and hard work. The experience of Karim El Ahmadi, M’barek Boussoufa and Juventus’s Mehdi Benatia fits well with the intelligence of Hakim Ziyech and the strength of Nordin Amrabat.

    Morocco will play Iran on June 15. On the same day, Spain, which eliminated Portugal in the last 16 on the way to winning its first World Cup in 2010, will open against the European champions in Sochi.

    http://northafricapost.com/23800-more-than-10000-moroccan-fans-will-support-atlas-lions-in-russia.html

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  • NT: Moroccan Players to Watch in the World Cup

    By Morocco World News

    Rabat – After 20 years, Morocco is back on the field and on the road to Russia 2018 with a football squad full of potential. Only six of the 23 players were born in Morocco, while the others were born in either France or the Netherlands.

    FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) holds the authority of maintaining and implementing the rules that determine whether an association football player is eligible to represent a particular country. Since 2004, FIFA requires that a player must demonstrate a “clear connection” with the country they wish to represent.

    For the first match on June 15, Morocco will be facing opponent team in their group, Iran. This is a must-win game for Morocco as they will also be facing tough teams, Spain and Portugal, in Group B.

    Here is a closer look at the high-key individual players:

    High-Profiled and Experienced Players

    Captain and the Juventus F.C. center back, Medhi Benatia’s goals are to lead his team into the knockout stages against the odds. Since Spain and Portugal hold a strong soccer reputation, many are already doubting Morocco’s skills.

    Two-time Belgian Golden Shoe winner and former player on the Chelsea youth team back in 2006, is attacking midfielder Mbark Boussoufa. The 33-year-old is filled with experience and ready to bring his skills and techniques to the field.

    Born in the Netherlands and both parents being Moroccan, Karim El Ahmadi is a former Aston Villa midfielder, and also one of the most experienced players on the squad.

    Former Watford midfielder, Nordin Amrabat, who is also a current player for Spanish club CD Leganés a is one of the most acclaimed players in the Moroccan squad.

    Overlooked Players

    The 24-year-old striker, Ayoub El Kaabi, can possibly move the spotlight towards himself with his outstanding statistics. He is the top goal scorer of the CHAN 2018 (African Nations Championship) which took place in Morocco with 9 goals.

    Another player to watch is Romain Saïss, who currently plays as a midfielder for English club Wolverhampton Wanderers.. The 28-year-old French-born was qualified to play for Morocco thank to his Moroccan ancestry. According to TheSportsman, Saïss completed almost 2000 short passes throughout the season, putting him 5th in the league overall.

    The Future

    Currently playing as a midfielder for German club Schalke 04, the 20-year-old French-born, Amine Harit, is Morocco’s future star player. The young player has caught many people’s attention with his mastered speed, agility, and ball control.

    The second promising star is Spanish-born Moroccan, Achraf Hakimi, who plays for Spanish Club Real Madrid. As a 19-year-old defender, Achraf is an attacking threat and has managed to make his way to the top of the field with two goals for Real Madrid, while also assisting others.

    Both players are to make their first World Cup appearance in Russia 2018.

    Possibly the Top Scorer for the World Cup Russia 2018

    The 25-year-old, Hakim Ziyech, plays as an attacking midfielder for Amsterdam Club Ajax. He is known for his dribbling skills and his ability to put the ball behind the net from free kicks.

    According to TheSportsman, Ziyech has eight goals from 15 caps, giving him the second highest goal-tally on the team, and he will be key to creating or scoring the goals that Morocco will need to progress in Group B.

    Read more...

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