World Cup heroes Morocco must wait till September for competitive match

AFP , Wednesday 4 Jan 2023

World Cup history makers Morocco must wait until September for their next competitive match -- a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in South Africa.

Morocco star Hakim Ziyech (L) playing against Croatia in the World Cup third-place playoff in Qatar on December 17, 2022. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

The Atlas Lions, who last month became the first World Cup semi-finalists from Africa, were due to play Zimbabwe twice during March in the Cup of Nations.

But Zimbabwe were barred from the premier African national team competition by world body FIFA due to government interference in the sport.

So Morocco will have to settle for friendly fixtures in the March and June international windows before visiting South Africa and hosting Liberia between September 4-12 in Group K.

Morocco top the table with a maximum six points after beating South Africa 2-1 and Liberia 2-0 last June.

The teams finishing first and second qualify for the 2023 finals in the Ivory Coast, which have been postponed to January and February 2024 because of the rainy season in west Africa.

Despite being one of the strongest national teams in the continent for decades, Morocco have won the Cup of Nations only once, in Ethiopia 47 years ago.

The closest the north African kingdom came since was losing 2-1 to hosts Tunisia in the 2004 title decider.

Walid Regragui, the coach who masterminded wins over Belgium, Spain and Portugal in Qatar before falling to France in the semi-finals, expects at least a last-four place at the next Africa Cup.

"We must be at least in the semi-finals of the (2023) CAN (Cup of Nations)," the former national team defender told the Moroccan Arryadia sports channel.

"If I do not go to the semi-finals I will leave on my own," added the France-born 47-year-old, who became coach of Morocco only three months before the World Cup.

The other four African qualifiers for Qatar -- last-16 losers Senegal and first-round casualties Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia -- will be in Cup of Nations action during March.

Facing the same opposition at home and away, reigning champions Senegal will meet Mozambique, Cameroon come up against Namibia, Ghana take on Angola and Tunisia tackle Libya.

Senegal hope talisman Sadio Mane recovers from knee surgery in time to face the Mozambican Mambas (snakes) after the Bayern Munich forward missed the World Cup.

Tunisia will continue to be coached by Jalel Kadri after the national football federation rejected his wish to resign due to failing to reach the second round in Qatar, though they finished their campaign with a 1-0 win over 2018 champions France.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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