Can Herve verve spark Morocco?

The Ele­phants’ classy new gen­er­a­tion favourites

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

THE Ele­phants of Ivory Coast, with a star-stud­ded team, spent the last decade wad­dling aim­lessly in search of the pres­ti­gious Africa Cup of Na­tions (Afcon) tro­phy, un­til Herve Re­nard showed them the way to it two years ago. The French­man will be look­ing to prove that he still has that com­pass, which he had used to guide Zam­bia to Africa’s top prize in 2012, when he leads Morocco in Gabon.

He won’t find it easy as he has to nav­i­gate past a group that has a lot of emo­tional con­nec­tions with the 48-year-old coach. Re­nard’s At­las Lions start their Afcon cam­paign against the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), a side he beat with the Ele­phants in 2015 to reach the fi­nal.

A clash with Togo led by his men­tor, Claude Le Roy, fol­lows be­fore he takes on his for­mer em­ploy­ers, Ivory Coast. It’s an emo­tional mine­field Re­nard must care­fully make his way out of if he is to re­vive Morocco, who haven’t been African cham­pi­ons for over four decades.

Re­nard has adopted the no-non­sense ap­proach that helped him suc­ceed with Chipolopolo. He sur­pris­ingly left out Hakim Ziyech, a de­ci­sion that made him un­pop­u­lar in Morocco just like the de­ci­sion to send Clif­ford Mu­lenga home, for re­fus­ing to apol­o­gise for break­ing cur­few with Zam­bia in 2012, made him an un­pop­u­lar fig­ure in the Chipolopolo camp.

But that stance sent a mes­sage as to how the coach val­ues team unity over any­thing else.

Re­nard ar­gued he couldn’t guar­an­tee Ziyech game time as he had Younes Bel­handa and Mbark Bous­so­ufa to play be­hind the striker. Bel­handa has since been ruled out of the tour­na­ment be­cause of a toe in­jury, join­ing Ous­sama Tan­nane on the side­lines through in­juries.

Sofi­ane Bo­ufal pulled out of the 23-man squad be­cause of a knee in­jury. Even though Re­nard won the Afcon with Ivory Coast largely thanks to the stars he had, he thrived with un­knowns who played for the badge with Zam­bia.

Florent Ibenge has mas­tered that. He won a bronze medal with DRC in 2015 – not be­cause they had stars but be­cause they were a united team.

Achiev­ing that balance will be the big­gest chal­lenge for the reign­ing African cham­pi­ons, the Ele­phants, as they em­bark on a path to re­tain their tro­phy.

Only three other na­tions – Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon – have re­tained this tro­phy. A lot of the play­ers who helped Ivory Coast win the Afcon aren’t there, new and younger blood have been brought in.

But the positive is that most of that new blood has been around the set-up, in­clud­ing coach Michel Dus­suyer who has served as an as­sis­tant coach.

The Ele­phants are favourites from Group C along with Morocco be­cause of Re­nard’s Mi­das touch and Ivory Coast’s qual­ity. DRC can spoil all of that while you can never dis­count Togo be­cause of the old hand, Le Roy, guid­ing them. He has con­sis­tently taken his teams to the knock-out stage, only fail­ing to get out of the group stage with DRC in 2013 in South Africa. MI­DAS TOUCH: Re­nard Herve, coach of Morocco, is go­ing for his third Africa Cup of Na­tions crown af­ter lead­ing Zam­bia and the Ivory Coast to the ti­tle. He has a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence on the con­ti­nent.

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