Football Football

Gabon eye quarters, Morocco target survival


LIBREVILLE, Gabon, January 26 – Gabon and Morocco have identified Friday’s Group C meeting here as crucial to their respective Africa Cup of Nations fortunes – but for vastly different reasons.

For Gabon, victory against the 1976 winners will guarantee the co-hosts a place in the quarter-finals after their opening 2-0 win over Niger.

For Morocco, who lost to Tunisia in their opener, defeat will mean they are checking out of their waterfront hotel early, an embarrassing fate after failing to qualify for 2010.

The north Africans were in defiant mood at training on Wednesday, despite missing five of the squad including Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh to various assorted illnesses and injuries.

Disappointed at falling 2-1 to Tunisia they spoke of ironing out the faults that conspired to leave them on zero points and make amends against a buoyant Gabon team.

Rennes midfielder Youssef Hadji, part of the side that failed to make it out of the first round in 2008, stressed Morocco were ready to play the party pooper and topple their hosts.

“We have a side that can go far. After the Tunisia defeat we’ve got to react, it’s obvious we need a win, and we have the possibility to do just that,” he said.

Reflecting on what went wrong in the Maghreb derby, Hadji added: “We went over the game again and saw what didn’t work. What didn’t work was our efficiency to take the chances we had, we were extremely mal a droit in front of goal.

“Tunisia didn’t have many opportunities but they scored goals. We are preparing and concentrating now on Gabon, we can do it.”

Morocco coach Eric Gerets blamed the Tunisian loss on “tactical and technical errors”.

“Everyone saw that and accepted it,” the Belgian former Marseille manager said.

“It would have been a lot more serious if we hadn’t existed, we did exist, on the playing level Tunisia weren’t better than us.

“Aside from the errors we made I don’t think we were inferior to them.

“Now it’s clear we need to beat Gabon, otherwise we’ll be returning home.”

Chamakh (stomach upset), fellow forward Oussama As-Saidi, and defenders Michael Basser and Mehdi Benatia (minor knocks) should be fine to take part, the team doctor reported.

Replacement goalkeeper Issam Badda is also well on the mend after succumbing to a benign dose of malaria which required treatment in hospital.

Morocco’s opponents Gabon meanwhile galloped to a rousing 2-0 win against debutants Niger to send this small central West African nation into ecstasy, and Gernot Rohr’s men will prove hard to stop as they target a last eight berth.

Stars of the show on Monday were goalscorers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Stephane Nguema.

Rohr commented: “We’ve taken one small step, the most difficult is still ahead of us, against Morocco and then Tunisia. These are two very big teams, Niger gave us confidence, but that’s behind us now.”

The 58-year-old German added: “Friday’s match is decisive, the Moroccans know if they lose it’s the end, so it’ll be hard, a very complicated clas against top players.”

The team’s number one supporter, Gabon President Ali Bongo, visited the team’s dressing room after Monday’s victory and the hip hop fan celebrated by performing an impromptu dance to the delight of the team.

“His support has done us a lot of good, he and the First Lady have become very, very close to this team,” said Rohr.