Morocco lifted by the well wishes of the Dutch

The National - News - - SPORT WORLD CUP 2018 -

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

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