Morocco v Ivory Coast: Kamara not out for revenge in Renard’s ‘special’ match
Morocco coach Herve Renard is excited for Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations clash with his former team Ivory Coast, who Ibrahim Kamara insists will not be focusing on revenge.
Renard became the first coach to ever win the Africa Cup of Nations with two different countries in 2015, ending Ivory’s Coast’s 23-year wait for the title.
He left for a short spell at Lille later that year, before returning to international football in 2016 with Morocco.
Under Renard, the Atlas Lions qualified for the 2018 World Cup, their first appearance in the competition since 1998.
A 2-0 win away to Ivory Coast in November 2017 secured Morocco’s place in Russia and, although this will be their first meeting since, Kamara insists vengeance is not on the mind of his players.
“We’re not here for revenge,” said head coach Kamara, who oversaw Ivory Coast’s Under-20s when Renard was in charge of the senior side.
“In football, every match is different to deal with. Our main aim is to qualify, not to beat Morocco and then go home.
“I’m glad to see Renard again. He’s Morocco’s coach now and I’m Ivory Coast’s, and both of us aim for our teams to qualify.
“Renard is used to the big competitions and this particular one relies on strength, but we will still play to win and qualify.”
Ivory Coast and Morocco won their AFCON openers 1-0, beating South Africa and Namibia respectively, meaning either side can take charge of Group D with victory and potentially confirm progression.
While each squad is blessed with some of the best talent at the tournament, Renard appears to have made a veiled attempt to position Ivory Coast as favourites, quipping that thinking about the Elephants’ strength in depth makes his head hurt.
“This is a special game for me,” the Frenchman said. “Every game against Ivory Coast is always a tough one, even after my time with them.
“You have to focus on the game, a match that is currently a group match. The objective of both teams is to get out of the group.
“I was at the stadium for the match against South Africa and I found a team mastering its game. It is [usually] a habit of Ivorians to have difficult starts to competitions.
“I know the coach, this is a coach who has character and his team has talented players on the field, on the bench. I don’t think about it, otherwise you get headaches.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Morocco – Hakim Ziyech
The undisputed star of the team, Ajax attacking midfielder Ziyech was lively against Namibia, who Morocco scraped past thanks to a late own goal. The 26-year-old had seven shots and crafted three chances and he will likely need to be even more threatening in the face of better opposition.
Ivory Coast – Nicolas Pepe
Against South Africa, the highly coveted winger was disappointingly quiet, failing to even create a chance. Morocco can be expected to put up a greater fight than Bafana Bafana, meaning Ivory Coast will need their biggest stars at their best.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Ivory Coast have lost only one of their four games in the Africa Cup of Nations against Morocco, two years ago.
– Morocco have won their last two contests with Ivory Coast in all competitions, as many as in their previous 11 games against the Elephants (D3, L6).
– The Atlas Lions have won their last three group stage games in the Africa Cup of Nations, their longest streak at this level of the tournament since January 2000 (also three).
– Ivory Coast have lost only once in their last 18 group-stage games in the Africa Cup of Nations (W11 D6). That loss was in January 2017 against Morocco.
– Max Gradel has made provided two assists in Ivory Coast’s last three goals in the Africa Cup of Nations.