Morocco and Ivory Coast in a grudge battle of heavyweights

Morocco's coach Herve Renard and Morocco's midfielder Younes Belhanda (R) attend a press conference at the Al-Salam stadium in Cairo on June 27, 2019, on the eve of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Morocco and Ivory Coast.
Morocco's coach Herve Renard and Morocco's midfielder Younes Belhanda (R) attend a press conference at the Al-Salam stadium in Cairo on June 27, 2019, on the eve of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Morocco and Ivory Coast.
Image: Ahmed HASAN / AFP

Morocco and Ivory Coast meet in a grudge battle of heavyweights in their Africa Cup of Nations Group D encounter at Cairo's Al Salam Stadium on Friday night (kickoff 7pm).

Morocco coach Hervé Renard is much loved in Ivory Coast‚ who he guided to the Nations Cup trophy in Equatorial Guinea in 2015.

Previously Renard won with unheralded Zambia in 2012.

Ivory Coast have rebuilt from the golden generation who mostly ended their careers just after their 2015 triumph.

They have brought a team - as shown in their impressive 1-0 opening victory against South Africa on Monday - who could well challenge for a second trophy in four years.

During their rebuilding phase‚ Cote d'Ivoire have come out at the wrong end of three meetings against Renard as coach of Morocco.

The Atlas Lions qualified for the 2018 World Cup at Ivory Coast's expense‚ drawing 0-0 at home then winning 2-0 in Abidjan.

At the 2017 Nations Cup in Gabon‚ Morocco won 1-0 against Renard's former team to progress to the quarterfinals‚ knocking Cote d'Ivoire out in the group stage.

Renard‚ of course‚ retains all his respect for Ivorian football‚ and was impressed with what he saw from the new generation in their opener against Bafana Bafana.

“Ivory Coast are one of the best teams in Africa. These guys are used to playing very important games for their national team‚" the 50-year-old Frenchman said.

“And in Ivory Coast the players are very strong‚ they have a spirit. They want to achieve something. They are not scared of anybody. So we have to be in the same configuration‚ especially mentally. And we have to be ready‚ because they are very good.

“Against South Africa - I saw a team‚ a team who control the game. They didn't exert huge effort to win the match. But it's something about Ivorians‚ to pace themselves in the game. They conserve their energy. I have noticed their ability to do so. And I know their coach [Ibrahim Kamara] - we have worked together. He is really a great man. He organises his team perfectly.”

Ivory Coast coach Kamara played down the grudge aspect of the match-up.

“We do not want to take revenge. In football there is no revenge‚" Kamara said.

“We are trying to qualify for the knockout stages‚ and Morocco are grouped with us. So we will do our best to qualify for the next round. That's our only target.”

Morocco's Ajax Amsterdam right midfielder Hakim Ziyech showed flashes of his class in a match where it was very hard to - the Lions' 1-0 opening win against Namibia on Sunday played in searing heat.

The North Africans only scored in the 89th minute‚ Ziyech providing the free-kick‚ from substitute Iitamunua Keimuine's own goal.

Kamara has some genuine class at his disposal.

Aston Villa centre-forward Jonathan Kodjia is monstrous and mobile‚ and got off the mark with the goal against South Africa.

Lille's emerging star Nicolas Pepe showed his class on the wing in a game also played in high-30s degrees Celsius heat.

Bafana meet Namibia in the late game at Al Salam Stadium at 10pm.

All four Group D teams will be pleased to have seen the back of the heat of their 4.30pm kickoffs.

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