Pride at stake in ‘dead’ Morocco, Niger cup tie

2012-01-30 17:08

Libreville – Eric Gerets, in what could be his last match as coach of Morocco, will expect his players to end their curtailed stay in Gabon with a flourish in the “dead” clash with Niger here tomorrow.

Both sides are heading home after this final Africa Cup of Nations Group C tie having been trumped in the race for a quarterfinal place by co-hosts Gabon and Tunisia.

While pride is the only prize at stake it promises to be a hard-fought affair, with Niger seeking their first-ever Cup points and Gerets hoping his team will show enough to persuade his paymasters that he is worth his reported €200 000-a-month salary.

After Friday’s absorbing 3-2 loss to Gabon which sealed Morocco’s fate, the former Marseille manager took refuge in his team hotel lounge, drawing on a large cigar as he contemplated his future.

Two games and zero points is not a good return by any yardstick, yet Gerets believes passionately in his mix of veterans like captain Houssine Kharja and a posse of up and coming youngsters.

Speaking after that painful defeat in which Gabon scored the winner in the eighth minute of stoppage time the Belgian said: “If they (the Moroccan Football Federation) let me do my job I will continue, if they are not happy with my performance they will let me know.

“For 15 months no one has talked about bad performances or a bad coach so it would be a bit surprising (to be sacked), but in my job it can happen – on Monday you are king, 24 hours later you are not a king.

“As long as I am coach of Morocco I will take my responsibility and continue with my philosophy of making my players improve, I know the team are capable of better.”

Turning to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 Gerets was asked whether he still thought Morocco could make it to the finals with qualifying starting in June.

“One month ago I would have told you ‘yes’, but after this performance I think it’s better not to answer – I will have to see the reaction of the younger players who have a future but who have to stand up now and fight against this disappointment – only the strong will survive.”

He will be looking for evidence of a positive reaction against Niger, whose first-ever appearance at the Nations Cup has also harvested zero points with an opening 2-0 loss to Gabon followed by Tunisia’s last gasp 2-1 win.

Against Tunisia, Niger had regained much of the form that had seen them qualify in a group that also contained Egypt, winners of the last three editions, and South Africa.

An entertaining encounter was heading for a 1-1 draw until substitute Issam Jemaa bagged the 2004 titleholders the points in the final minute.

Worryingly, though, all Niger’s qualifying points en route to the 2012 finals came at home in Niamey.

Control of the team appears to have passed from African Coach of the Year Harouna Doula to his “consultant”, Rolland Courbis, like Gerets a former Marseille manager.

Courbis it was who was orchestrating affairs from the touchline in the Tunisia defeat while Doula sat impassively in the dug out.

One of the players who has shone for Niger is the tall Belgian-based striker Maazou Moussa Ouwo, whose dazzling runs had the Tunisian defence in difficulties here last Friday.

It may have no significance as far as this competition goes but both sides have a point to prove at Libreville’s L’Amitie stadium.

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