Cruise Control for Atlas Lions

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar September 10, 2018 21:00

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Cruise Control for Atlas Lions

By Satish Sekar at Casablanca’s Stade Mohammed V © Satish Sekar (September 8th 2018)

Settled Quickly

Needing a win after defeat to the already qualified hosts, Cameroon, the result was never in doubt after Ziyach Hakim’s opener after just two minutes. The second, almost a carbon copy on 42 minutes was the first of Mohammed VI Academy graduate, Youssef En-Nesyri’s brace. The third, after 78 minutes required a poor effort by goalkeeper Charles Swini.

Malwai, came to defend, but such tactics quickly backfired. The defence and keeper creaked all night. The opening goal began with possession being conceded following poor defending. After it rebounded off OGC Nice midfielder, Younes Belhanda, to Ziyach, putting the FC Twente through on the left, and he slotted it in across Swini to settle any nerves the Atlas Lions had quickly.

Malawi’s defending remained chaotic, although Swini’s eractic decisions can’t have helped. Ten minutes into the match Nabil Dirar’s cross from the left illustrated Swini’s flaws. He came for the cross and couldn’t get past his own defenders, let alone reach the ball. His blushed were spared as En-Nesyri headed wide. Two minutes later En-Nesyri spurned another opportunity by shooting wide.

Swini refused to learn patting away a long shot by Ziyach to his left rather than catching it. Five minutes before doubling Morocco’s lead En-Nsyri headed wide again and Ziyach’s long-range effort just failed to dip enough. The second goal was coming. Three minutes before half time it came. Hakimi Achraf’s through ball found En-Nesyri on the left of the area. He slotted it in to the opposite corner to double Morocco’s lead.

Swini showed no signs of learning as he was once again beaten to the ball by En-Nesyri. He also beat away Amrabat Noureddine’s shot.

Debuts

It had been a long, long wait. The cheers rang out on 72 minutes, some for the departing Nabil Dirar, but most were for Mazraoui Noussaire. The 20-year-old Dutch-born Ajax defender had waited patiently for an opportunity. It came tonight.

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“We have a very good squad,” coach Hervé Renard said. “Some player are waiting more than 30 years, so we have to think also of the future.

“You know it’s very important like Mazraoui [Noussaire] this evening. He came for us the first time to wear the shirt of Morocco. It was a very good moment for him and [Nayef] Aguerd of course.”

Renard has a history of blooding young talent. Aguerd also got his Atlas Lions debut, but made a bad mistake that allowed Gerald Phiri to bear down on goal. He failed to take advantage.

“He was not ready to play the first duel,” Renard said. “Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for us, they didn’t score, so you saw it, everybody saw it, so I will tell him, ‘you have to concentrate.’

“Football, especially for a defender, you have to be very strong in the duel. He was very, very good this week, so I wanted to give him a chance to play this evening, but I think he will learn a lot with his mistake.”

Academic

Five minutes before Aguerd came on, En-Nesyri got his second. His close-range shot was partially blocked by Swini, but trickled over the line.

Nine years ago the Mohammed VI Academy began its quest to turn Moroccan fortunes around. The clubs looked to immediate gratification, buying what they needed, rather than developing home-grown talent.

The Mohammed VI Academy was part of the solution to chronic under-achievement on the national stage by Morocco – only one Africa Cup of Nations triumph, 1976 and ten years later they played their last World Cup before Russia. Something had to be done.

Tonight Nayef Aguerd became the fourth graduate of the Mohammed VI Academy to make his international bow. That’s four developed from boy to full internationals in less than a decade – phenomenal.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar September 10, 2018 21:00