The Moroccan National Team had an open practice in Voronezh at “Chaika” Stadium prior to the takeoff game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup against the Iranian team on Wednesday, June 13. The practice was attended by around 450 people – players of regional youth teams and representatives of the Moroccan expatriate community. What players of the African team are expecting from the major football tournament of the planet, why the arrival of the national team has caused excitement of immigrants from Morocco and what will regional children teams be able to pick up from the open practice – read in the article of a RIA ”Voronezh” reporter.

“Boys will be able to watch European level players”

Young men with Arabic appearance had been wandering around Chaika’s fence since eight in the morning. They had no tickets, and organizers of the open practice politely asked them to wait – perhaps, the quota of Moroccan representatives still had unclaimed seats. Administrators and the coach staff of the Morocco National Team cam to the practice a half hour before footballers did and did all the preparatory work – brought the equipment out to the field, placed the cones on the lawn. The practice was supposed to start at 9:30, but at 9:15 it was still raining, and volunteers on the stands were hastily wiping water off the seats. As head coach of the Moroccan team Hervé Renard was running past the group of journalists, he confirmed that the practice would be held in any weather conditions.

The footballers spilled out onto the field at 9:45. Noise came from the stands not yet full with people: Voronezh residents started applauding while Moroccans raised their flags and scarves and started singing. The players smiled, waved to the audience and began warming up.

– First of all, it is a great motivational event for children, they will be able to watch real professional, - coach of FCSh-73 Yury Chernousov explained the importance of open practices of professional teams for children. – It is an experience too. Boys will be able to watch European level players and then they will try to repeat some of what they saw during our practices. Yes, the Moroccans, will not demonstrate their secret techniques in front of cameras. And they will surely practice safely – on a wet field one can get injured two days before the first game of the tournament. But in a simple game of squares you ca learn something. The Moroccan national team has the highest skill level, they make decisions very quickly. And this is a major event for the boys. Even I will try to have a sneaky peek, to notice new exercises which later can be adapted for my trainees. My boys know some football players from Morocco – of course, Medhi Benatia from Juventus, Moubarak Boussoufa and Manuel da Costa who have played for Russian football clubs. And I’m watching the African team’s coach. Hervé Renard has won the Total Africa Cup of Nations with the Zambia national team, that’s worth a lot. With the Moroccan team he could become the “dark horse” – every short-term tournament has a surprise team. I’ve seen this team in action, they demonstrate nice well-balanced football. It has starts as well as hard-workers who can step in for their partners.

Even though the World Cup will soon begin, the Moroccans took their practice seriously. They went all out in every exercise not hesitating to do sliding tackles on the wet lawn of the Voronezh arena. The footballers pointed out the surfacing of “Chaika” stadium – it can withstand much more.

- The field is excellent and your stadium is very nice. The city is also pretty. The conditions for living and working here are excellent, the host country has done a great job, that’s for sure. We feel that a big work has been carried out for us. The organization is great. I would even say excellent. The attendants do everything to enable the players to think only about the game. And we will do our best to outplay Iran on Friday, Amine Harit, 20-year-old budding star of the Moroccan team and German club Schalke, promised.

“We are happy to be here”

During the whole training session, Moroccan fans were singing and dancing, waving red flags over their heads. They shouted the names of the stars of their national team – most often, they mentioned the captain, stopper Mehdi Benatia.

- In 1993, I entered the local Technological Academy and stayed in Voronezh, Moroccan fan Mehdi Hutt said. - The arrival of the national team is a great gift for us, we are very happy. Voronezh has already become a home for us, and our national team has arrived. I’m sure that Morocco will progress to knock-out stage. I hope we can play a draw with Spain, outplay the Portuguese and the Iranians. And we will get out of the group with seven points. The decisive match will be the match with Spain, we must not lose. First of all, we hope for our wings. And the defense is good. Benatia is one of the best stoppers of the Italian championship. And our coach is great, we hope to progress to knock-out stage with him. In 1998, the team of Morocco did not succeed. The Brazilians played against the Norwegians, how to say it, in a boorish way. Brazil was just given the match, Norway scored from a penalty kick in the last minute and came through to the 1/8 instead of us. Morocco had a good team at that time. But believe me, it’s even better now.

During the training session, the Moroccans practiced transition, pressing and connectivity off the ball – during one of the exercises the coaches took the balls from the lawn, and the players changed their positions on the field, focusing only on voices. The players finished the training with a series of dual meets in which each of Herve Renard’s players came out on the field. The training session lasted one hour and 15 minutes.

- We are happy to be here in Russia. The food is very good here, the conditions are excellent. And the people are very kind. Our team is in a difficult group. But, of course, we will do our best to progress to the next round of the tournament. But for now, we are thinking only about Iran. The match is already on Friday. The first match is like the final. If we win – then we will think about Portugal. In the qualifying tournament, we did not miss a single ball, but that’s already history. There are other teams at the World Cup, everything will be much harder. Physically, we are ready, I feel that we are ready. And mentally we are also ready. We will fight. So I advise everyone to come to the stadiums, watch the matches on television. I think we will show something interesting, holding midfielder of the Moroccan team and Dutch “Feyenoord” Karim El Ahmadi urged.

After the training session, the Moroccans were giving autographs to the trainees of the regional football schools for at least 15 minutes.

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Фото — Михаил Кирьянов