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Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

2018 World Cup team preview: Morocco

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Getting to know Morocco: The 2026 World Cup hosts — I’M JUST KIDDING, CARLOS!!! — are better known as the Atlas Lions (great name) but have a tall task ahead of themselves in a first World Cup appearance in 20 years.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Once an AFCON semifinal mainstay, Morocco has had tournament trouble aside from 2004 AFCON runners-up status. Getting out of the group with Spain, Portugal, and Iran would qualify as a big success for a boss who’s used to getting the most out of his teams.

For more history on Morocco, click here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? B


Game schedule – Group B – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Friday, June 15: Morocco v Iran, St Petersburg 11 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 20: Portugal v Morocco, Moscow 8 a.m. ET
Monday, June 25: Spain v Morocco, Kaliningrad 2 p.m. ET


Projected lineup (4-2-3-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Bono —–

Hakimi — Saiss — Benatia — Mendyl

Boussoufa —- El Ahmadi

Amrabat —- Belhanda —- Ziyech

Boutaib


Star player: Mehdi Benatia – The 56-times capped captain of the squad is a rock at the back, one of the best center backs in Serie A having previously played for Bayern Munich and AS Roma amongst others.

(Photo by Steve Haag/Getty Images)

Manager: Herve Renard – It’s a first World Cup for the French boss, though he’s got a pair of Africa Cup of Nations titles (one with Zambia and the other with Ivory Coast). Renard also had success with Angola at the 2010 AFCON, and could become a big figure for a fourth African nation with an early win over Iran, a surprise draw against Portugal or Spain, and help.


Secret weapon: Hakim Ziyech – The longtime Eredivisie star is coming off a league-leading assist season (15) with Ajax and arguably the top season overall in the league. He’ll have to get past club teammate and fellow under-the-radar star Alireza Jahanbakhsh of Iran in a neat little subplot.


Prediction: It’s a tall ask to get out of the group, but if Spain puts Portugal to the knife and Morocco beats Iran on the first group match day, the CAF side can hope to stifle Portugal in Game Two and then keep goal differential in check against Spain in the finale. It’s still looking like third place at best, but there’s a path.

Hervé Renard quits as Ivory Coast manager, expected to join French side Lille

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After accepting the job offer from the Ivory Coast national team in July 2014, French manager Hervé Renard has officially stepped down from his international post.

The former AS Cannes defender won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in February as boss of the Ivory Coast, and two years prior, he had done the same with Zambia.

The Elephants hadn’t been crowned champions since 1992, but in a nail-biting 11-round shootout against Ghana , they were finally able to snag the title as goalkeeper Boubacar Barry provided the final stop on Spanish second-division netminder Brimah Razak.

Renard is the first coach to have won the tournament with two different nations and alluded to his departure for Ligue 1 club Lille OSC, whose current coach, Rene Girard, will leave at the end of this season by “mutual agreement” with management.

From Sky Sports:

“My adventure with Ivory Coast was exceptional. And I sincerely think that the best moment to end our collaboration is after such a success,” said Renard.

“In all likelihood, I’m going to Lille barring a catastrophe.

“I hope that my future club will allow me to advance to another level, and I hope, like any self-respecting coach, to one day participate in the European Champions League.”

Despite his quick departure, Renard clearly vacated his duties on good terms with those close to the Ivory Coast.

“We thank Mr Renard for our collaboration, for the work he did at the head of the national team,” Pierre Gondo, a spokesman for the Ivorian Football Federation, said. “We expressed to him our regret to see this collaboration end so soon.”

Guus Hiddink to Netherlands headlines trio of new international hires

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Guus Hiddink is back in charge of the Dutch, with his second spell as Netherlands boss just one of a trio of international coaching hires in the past week.

Fellow Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has been tabbed to lead Serbia forward, while Herve Renard of France will take over the Ivory Coast.

All three Europeans have international experience.

Renard shepherded Zambia to a historic upset of his new squad back in the African Cup of Nations, and will take over for Sabri Lamouchi. The Ivory Coast again failed to escape the group stage at the World Cup this summer.

[ MORE: Sierra Leone squad can’t travel due to ebola concerns ]

Advocaat has watched over five national teams: Russia, South Korea, the Netherlands, UAE and Belgium. Serbia missed the 2014 World Cup, and hasn’t advanced past the group stage since a run to the Round of 16 in 1998.

Short-term boss Ljubinko Drulović posted a 2-1-1 record after taking over for Siniša Mihajlović, who lost more than he won in coaching Serbia to a third place Group A finish behind Belgium and Croatia in 2014 UEFA World Cup qualifying.

Hiddink says his side will play “attractive but practical football” as he tries to best the semifinal run he led in 1998. He’s led three sides into the knockout rounds of the World Cup, taking Australia into the second round in 2006 and leading South Korea’s stunning fourth-place run on home soil in 2002.

He’s also coached Russia and Turkey in addition to a club career in the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Russia and England.

And Hiddink will have a big gun beside him:

Louis van Gaal led the Netherlands to a third-place finish in Brazil, but left to take the Manchester United job.

Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group C

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Coming off their first African title, Zambia gets a fortunate group draw to start their title defense. A refactoring Nigerian team is the group’s next threat, with two teams who’ve failed to impact recent tournaments rounding out Group C.

Like Group B, there is a top-heavy nature to this group, but while a team like Congo DR provided a threat at the bottom of Ghana’s group, the underdogs in this group sit waiting for a favorite to slip. A mistake-free mini-tournament should see the top two through.

Group C kicks off on Monday.

GROUP C: Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia

ZAMBIA

World rank: 39; CAF rank: 5; Best finish: Champions in 2012.

The Copper Bullets shocked the world in 2012, defeating tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire in the final to claim their first Cup of Nations. While that result sees Hervé Renard’s side carrying new expectations into South Africa, few are picking Zambia to make a run for a second title.

History: Though 2012 was the Copper Bullets’ first Cup victory, the team had made two previous appearances in the tournament final: 1974, 1994. Despite only limited success, Zambia have been consistent qualifiers for the competition, participating in 12 of the last 13 tournaments.

Players: Attacker Christopher Katongo (Henan Jianye, China) was player of the tournament last year. He’ll line up in support of 22-year-old Southampton striker Emmanuel Mayuka, one of two Copper Bullets playing in Europe’s big five leagues. The other, Stophira Sunzu (Reading, England), will anchor a defense featuring the team’s most-capped player, 35-year-old left back Joseph Musonda (Golden Arrows, South Africa). Isaac Chansa (Henan Jianye) will feature in midfield, while 21-year-old Chisamba Lungu (Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia) is expected to get the call on the right side of Renard’s attack.

How they’ll play: Zambia’s lack of quality in midfield forces them to rely on the counter, something they proved adept at executing last year. It is, however, possible for them to be choked out of games, something that may explain their mediocre results since last year’s title.

Outlook: The Copper Bullets will need some breaks to replicate last year’s run, but making it out of group shouldn’t be a problem.

NIGERIA

World rank: 52; CAF rank: 9; Best finish: Champions in 1980 and 1994.

Internationally, Nigeria is still regarded as one of the Africa’s elites, a view that matches the pride and expectations of fans at home. But the luster is gone from a nation whose recent results fail to match their talent. The Super Eagles failed to qualify for Equatorial Guinea-Gabon and have not advanced from their World Cup group since their success in the 1990s.

History: Including their two titles, Nigeria has 13 top-three finishes — the most of any nation — but it’s been nearly 20 years since their last title. They haven’t made a tournament final in 13 years.

Players: After the disappointment of South Africa 2010, players like Peter Odemwingie, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, John Utaka and Obafemi Martins have been phased out of the team. The only players over 25 who are expected to start Nigeria’s first match are defender and captain Joseph Yobo (32, Fenerbahçe) as well as goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (30, Maccabi Tel Aviv). Attackers Emmanuel Emenike (Spartak Moscow), Victor Moses (Chelsea), and Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow) average just over 22 years old, while 25-year-old John Obi-Mikel (Chelsea) is the old man in a midfield with Padova’s Nwankwo Obiorah and Real Betis’s Nosa Igiebor.

How they’ll play: Nigeria’s personnel has changed, but their play will largely be the same. Theirs is a stylish, flowing game that tends to work vertically as opposed to relying on possession. Particularly in their front three, the team has skill, pace, and potential, but despite the turnover in players, the question remains the same: Do they have a midfield to match?

Outlook: It’s an inexperienced squad but one that should be able to get out of the group on talent alone. Burkina Faso is capable while Ethopia’s stocking up. The Super Eagles’ inexperience is the risk.

BURKINA FASO

World rank: 92; CAF rank: 23; Best finish: Fourth place in 1998.

Having never qualified for a World Cup, Burkina Faso is the type of nation fans outside of Africa know little about. But with a number of players who play in prominent leagues, the Stallions are a more capable team than their lack of reputation suggests. The question is whether they can convert that talent, particularly in attack, to a team that can do more than merely keep up. Can Burkina Faso actually threaten anybody?

History: The team’s been a consistent qualifier for recent Cup of Nations, making eight of the last 10 editions of the tournament. Unfortunately they’ve only made it beyond the first round once: At home in 1998. Undone by their inability to score goals, the Stallions have been insignificant participants.

Players: Moumouni Dagano’s (Al-Sailiya, Qatar) 24 goals in 58 appearances make him Burkina Faso’s most-proven scoring threat, but left wing Jonathan Pitroipa is their most dangerous player. One of the main threats for Rennes in Ligue 1, the 26-year-old has been unable to find the same success for his national team (four goals in 34 appearances). Now’s the time for him to step up.

Marsielle’s Charles Kaboré plays at the base of a midfield purposing the more advanced Alain Traouré (Auxerre, France), with Lyon’s Bakary Koné the team’s best defender.

How they’ll play: A solid team that’s capable of containing opponents, Bukina Faso’s style typically lacks drive doing forward. The can play either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, both of which will lack drive from the midfield. It’s unclear how head coach Paul Put can solve that problem.

Outlook: This is a team that could take advantage of Nigeria’s inexperience, but not if the Super Eagles play to their potential. The Stallions are waiting for somebody to fall before breaking back through into the quarterfinals.

ETHIOPIA

World rank: 110; CAF rank: 31; Best finish: 1962 Champions.

It’s been 31 years since Ethiopia has qualified for a major tournament. To do so, the former Champions needed five goals over two qualifying legs, eventually advancing past Sudan on the away goals tiebreaker. At 31st in the region, they are this year’s lowest-ranked qualifier.

History: Ethiopia won the third Cup of Nations and qualified for each of the first seven tournaments. Since, the Walya Antelopes have only qualified twice and not since 1982. They haven’t advanced beyond group play since the year they won the title.

Players: Nineteen of the squad’s 23 players are domestic-based, with Minnesota-raised NASL forward and former U.S. U-level player Fuad Ibrahim one of the exceptions. He’s part of a concerted search for new Ethopian talent.

Defender Degu Debebe captains the team. He’s been capped 44 times and will be partnered in central defense by Saint George teammate Abebaw Butako. (Seven Saint George players are in the squad.)

Twnety-five year old Addis Hintsa (Dedebit, Ethipoia) holds down the midfield, with Egypt-based Saladin Said (Wadi Degla) leading the attack.

How they’ll play: Inconsistently. Doing forward, the Antelopes are capable of goals (as they showed against Sudan), but they tend to play on the counter while paradoxically leaving an inconsistent defense excessively exposed.

Outlook: The Ethiopians are ambitious, but their ambition is more likely to be rewarded in their quest to qualify for Brazil. They’ll need both breaks and luck to get out of this group.

SCHEDULE

Monday, Jan. 21, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Zambia versus Ethiopia
Monday, Jan. 21, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Nigeria versus Burkina Faso
Friday, Jan. 25, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Zambia versus Nigeria
Friday, Jan, 25, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Burkina Faso versus Ethiopia
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Burkina Faso versus Zambia
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Ethiopia versus Nigeria

Wild guess order of finish:

1. Zambia (7 pts.)
2. Nigeria (5 pts.)
3. Burkina Faso (2 pts.)
4. Ethiopia (1 pt.)