Morocco lifted by the well wishes of the Dutch
Morocco manager Herve Renard has welcomed the support of Louis van Gaal as fans in the Netherlands rally behind his squad – containing five Dutchborn players – at the World Cup.
The Moroccans begin their first World Cup campaign for 20 years against Iran in Saint Petersburg today.
But Renard has had to make the most of the Moroccan diaspora in Europe to get Morocco back on the biggest stage, with 17 of the 23-man squad born outside the country.
The Netherlands’ failure to qualify means Morocco have become the adopted side of many Dutch football fans, with former Manchester United and Barcelona manager Van Gaal personally sending his support to Renard and his squad yesterday.
“This morning I received the message. Of course, I was very happy, very proud for Morocco and for myself, because he’s a big coach,” said Renard.
“We know why your country is supporting a lot Morocco. We have some players who could play for your national team and we are proud to have them in our team.”
The most promising of Morocco’s five-strong Dutch-born contingent is Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who was once called up by the Netherlands before deciding to represent Morocco.
Ziyech won the Eredivisie player of the year last season and Renard hopes the World Cup gives him the stage to win a big-money move to a top European league once the event is over.
“I wish him all the best to find the best club possible because he has all the talent to do that,” said Renard.
“He is a very important player for us and for a coach like me it is fantastic to have a player with this skill.
“There are not a lot of players with this talent. He can see a lot of things before other players [can]. In one word, he is a fantastic player.”
Renard has carved out a reputation as a specialist in African football, winning the African Nations Cup with Zambia and the Ivory Coast before leading Morocco back to the biggest stage.
His experiences in club football have been less successful in short spells in France with Sochaux and Lille, plus Cambridge United in England.
However, he said he and his team will not settle for just making it to the World Cup.
“I’m a beginner but I have to live this experience with a lot of intensity. We are not here to take pictures of monuments in St Petersburg, we are here to compete,” he said.
Both Portugal and Spain are expected to be the two sides that qualify from Group B for the knockout stages, putting the pressure on Morocco and Iran, to prevail in their clash today if they are to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
“We have a tough draw,” Renard said. “It will be a matter of making the most of any chances we get.”
Carlos Queiroz, the Iran manager, echoed that view.
“We have the potential to surprise Morocco in our first match,” Queiroz said. “We know their team very well but I suspect they know very little about us.”
Iran are looking to build on an impressive performance in Brazil four years ago.
Although they went out in the group stages they held Nigeria to a goalless draw before being denied a share of the spoils with eventual finalists Argentina by a stoppage time goal from Lionel Messi.
Hakim Ziyech was Eredivisie player of the year last season