Morocco coach returns home

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MOROCCO, one of Scotland's Group A opponents, can be sure of one thing at this World Cup: no team will enjoy better and more homely facilities at their base camp. Henri Michel has taken the Moroccan squad to his birthplace to prepare in comfort. Michel, the former France and Cameroon manager, booked his charges into a hotel owned by a friend near Aix-en-Provence, France's good life capital, where he was born and feels very much at home.

"It's an excellent facility," said the 50-year-old who has been in charge of Morocco for three years. "The pitches are right here at the hotel, no buses needed every morning, and they are in good condition. It's very comfortable - but anyway the owner's a friend of mine so I didn't really have any choice."

But while Michel, who took France to the World Cup semi-finals in Mexico in 1986, is enjoying a low key build-up he insists his team are in the right frame of mind to face the tough challenge of Group A.

Morocco face Norway on the opening day of the tournament in Montpellier then take on Brazil in Nantes before playing Scotland in St Etienne in a match they hope may be a second-place decider.

They have injury worries over two key players - midfielder Mustapha Hadji and captain Nourreddine Naybet - and can ill-afford to be without them against in-form Norway.

Hadji has a broken toe in his kicking foot (the right) which is causing him problems. He was able to strike the ball well enough on Saturday but stayed clear of any physical contact. ``He'll have to play with the pain," said Michel. "If it's bearable he'll play."

Naybet, the cornerstone of the Moroccan defence, has just started ball work after spraining his ankle but hopes to be fit for 10 June. Otherwise the squad is in good shape and looked lively enough training in front of a handful of interested expats from Aix's sizeable Morroccan community.

Michel's last World Cup outing was Cameroon's disastrous effort in 1994 and he has ensured there is no repetition of the inadequate preparation that so undermined the Lions' chances. "I've had great support this time," he said. "All we can hope for is for the players to be fit with their technique in place. We've done all we can then - after that it's just sport."

Despite their three defeats in the 1994 finals, Morocco should not be seen as easy meat. The were unlucky to lose 2-0 to Brazil in a friendly in October and Michel believes a repeat of the form they showed that day would give them a great chance of second place in the group.

``That game [the 2-0 defeat in Belem] is very important for us - it's our point of reference.

``We have to find out why we played so well and rediscover that," said Michel, who is delighted that he will be returning to Nantes where he had so much success as a player.

Despite the reputation of the Brazilians, he insists his players are not merely turning up to join the Ronaldo fan club.

"There is no point in warning my players to watch out for Ronaldo - there are so many others," he said. "Even when Brazil play badly they still win - but we still have a chance. That is football - otherwise there would be no point."