Atlas Lions aim for home win in 2018 qualifiers

Atlas Lions aim for home win in 2018 qualifiers
Nabil Dirar of Morocco evades tackle from Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet of Egypt during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Finals football Quarter Final match between Egypt and Morocco at the Port Gentil Stadium in Gabon on 29 January 2017 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

by Graeme Jackson

Tuesday Aug 29, 2017. 17:30

Morocco will target a home win over Mali when the teams meet in a Group C 2018 World Cup qualifier at Stade Moulay Abdellah in Rabat on Friday, kick-off at 22h00 CAT.

Morocco have played to two draws in their campaign thus far, holding Gabon 0-0 away before playing out a stalemate at home to group leaders Ivory Coast. The North Africans are second on the standing on two points, two behind the Elephants.

Mali, meanwhile, are bottom of the standings on one point. They lost their opener 3-1 away to Ivory Coast and could only manage a goalless stalemate at home to Gabon in their second outing.

The Eagles will be desperate to pick up a positive result against the Atlas Lions and keep alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time. Yet coach Alain Giresse is wary of the threat posed by Morocco.

“[Morocco] is a good team, the players are experienced and have played for big clubs. They rely on a well-oiled collective and use a variable system,” the Mali coach told the press.

The Frenchman added, “We have to get back on our feet, because the two matches that are waiting for Mali are very important.

“We will take care not to make the same mistakes as the opening game against the Elephants.

“We will have to be supportive and very disciplined tactically because in Bouaké we played with three or four youngsters and it was very difficult.”

Giresse’s counterpart is compatriot Herve Renard, who has won a major battle in convincing experienced defender Mehdi Benatia to return to the national team set-up.

Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations with both Zambia and Ivory Coast, has also recalled Hakim Ziyech, handed maiden call-ups to Mohamed Ounajem, Amine Khammass and Soufiane Alakouch, as well as leaving out big names like Zouhair Feddal and Sofiane Boufal.

Morocco and Mali have not been regular combatants down the years, meeting in just 17 matches across all competitions according to FIFA’s statistics database.

The Atlas Lions have the better record, but only just: they have seven victories compared to five for the Eagles, while five matches have been drawn. The North Africans have managed an impressive 25 goals in that sequence, while conceding just 12.

The teams will be meeting in World Cup qualifiers for the first time. Their most recent match against each other was a friendly played at the Stade de Marrakech in Morocco on 6 March 2013. The Atlas Lions claimed a 2-1 win on home soil.

Cameroonian referee Sidi Alioum will take charge of the match in Rabat. The return game will be played at the Stade du 26 Mars in Bamako on September 5.

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