Morocco in fine shape ahead of their first finals since 1998

Morocco had plenty to celebrate in qualification. (AP)
Updated 29 November 2017

Morocco in fine shape ahead of their first finals since 1998

DUBAI: Exceptional team spirit has been at the heart of all Herve Renard’s successes as a coach. He masterminded one of football’s greatest underdog stories by lifting the African Nations Cup with Zambia and three years later ended Ivory Coast’s perennial underachievement by winning the trophy again.
Now it is Morocco reaping the fruits of Renard’s famed motivation after he guided the Atlas Lions to their first World Cup since 1998.
Ivorian Salamon Kalou recently compared his former coach to Jose Mourinho and it’s easy to see why. The relationships Renard forges with his players seem unbreakable; they lay everything on the line for their leader.
It is attitude rather than ability that has been key to Morocco’s return to football’s top table.
Renard has brought together a group of talented individuals — notably recruiting from the Moroccan diaspora in France, Holland and Spain — and created a collective to be reckoned with. There is no question this is the strongest national team assembled in a generation.
At the 1998 World Cup, Mustapha Hadji, Youssef Chippo and Noureddine Naybet were among the familiar faces to turn out for the Atlas Lions but that team fell short, coming third in their group behind Norway and eventual runners-up Brazil. Then, as now, they had a Frenchman — Henri Michel — at the helm and then, as now, they went into the tournament on the back of club success in the CAF Champions. In 1997 it was Raja Casablanca who were kings of the continent; in 2017, Wydad Casablanca flew the Moroccan flag with aplomb.
After Wydad’s success, coupled with a prodigious national team squad and a qualification campaign in which the previously imperious Ivory Coast were vanquished, expectations have risen dramatically.
It did not look so rosy 12 months ago. With two 0-0 draws from the opening two games, there were already murmurings of discontent. Had Renard’s magic touch worn off? Given Morocco had seen 11 coaches leave in 11 years leading up to the Frenchman’s appointment, speculation about his future was unsurprisingly rife. But the notoriously trigger-happy Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) demonstrated some rare restraint. Now, they are being rewarded for that show of faith. When he leads Morocco at next year’s World Cup, Renard will be the longest-serving Atlas Lions coach since Ezzaki Badou’s first reign ended in 2005.
Renard and Morocco recovered from those opening two draws, the 6-0 thrashing of Mali in the third match a pivotal moment. Everything finally came together as defensive stability and irresistible attacking play were in perfect union.
The six goals were shared between players born in Holland, Spain and France but the fans didn’t care. Their birthplace didn’t matter because they were giving their all for Morocco.
A surprising stalemate followed in the return match in Mali but a 3-0 defeat of Gabon — in which Khalid Boutaïb’s hat-trick underlined his importance — set up a grandstand finish in Abidjan. Renard’s charges showed remarkable temperament in that decisive game, the 2-0 victory over Ivory Coast providing a perfect exclamation point on the campaign.
The mental toughness of this group should leave Renard and Morocco feeling hopeful for the World Cup. No-one is expecting the Frenchman to achieve another miracle but advancing from the group stage should be the minimum target for Morocco’s ambitious coach and his players.


Formula One comes back to the track with Aramco as sponsors amid new coronavirus lockdown era

Updated 30 min 42 sec ago

Formula One comes back to the track with Aramco as sponsors amid new coronavirus lockdown era

  • The return to the track for F1 will also mark a first for Saudi Aramco that are sponsoring the global event
  • Lando Norris secured a career-best fourth place on the grid for McLaren for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix

DUBAI: Sunday will see the return of Formula One with the first race of the season since the coronavirus pandemic hit the world and closed the sport down.

The return to the track for F1 will also mark a first for Saudi Aramco that are sponsoring the global event.

“We are thrilled to be sponsoring Formula 1. Millions of people around the world saw Aramco’s branding along the racing circuit today for the first time,” read a statement from the Saudi oil giant.

“As the world’s largest energy supplier and an innovation leader, our ambition is to find game-changing solutions for better, more efficiently performing engines and cleaner energy. Partnerships such as this are important to help us to deliver this goal.”

 

Video courtesy of Aramco 

Lando Norris secured a career-best fourth place on the grid for McLaren for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix and admitted he had exceeded his own expectations.
The 20-year-old Briton qualified behind the pace-setting Mercedes pairing of pole sitter Valtteri Bottas and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen, but ahead of both Ferraris and other strong rivals including Racing Point's speedy ‘pink Mercedes’ cars.
“We had our expectations of where we thought we wanted to be and from the very beginning the Racing Points have clearly been extremely quick,” said Norris, who is embarking on his second F1 season.
“We never thought we’d be in a chance of beating them or getting close to them so we are delighted with this and with the car performance.
“The car started to come alive and feel better and better as it went to lower fuel levels and this track was very good for us last year. So we have confidence in the car and feel it suits us at the moment.
“Hopefully, the race goes well and we have two (consecutive) weekends of this and, hopefully, we can repeat it as well.”
Norris will start the race - his and the sport’s first F1 race for 216 days - alongside Verstappen with Alex Albon in the second Red Bull and Racing Point's Sergio Perez behind him.
His Ferrari-bound McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz qualified eighth.

(With AFP)