By Jamal Laoudi
By Jamal Laoudi
Morocco World News
Washington DC, January 13, 2012
The 2012 African Cup of Nations (CAN) tournament will be jointly hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea between January 21st and February 12th. Qualifying teams started preparations at different times. Some took the safe route and started early while others seem to have waited as long as possible. Morocco’s Atlas Lions began preparations only 10 days prior to kick off, while one of their main opponents in the first round, Tunisia, began much earlier. That, combined with the inconsistency of the performances of the Moroccan team in recent games, raises many questions about the expected performance of the Atlas Lions.
Morocco finds itself in a difficult group. They face Tunisia in the first game, and one of the host countries, Gabon in the second game. In the last match, they will face Niger, seemingly a weak team until one remembers that it beat Egypt, which has won the last three CAN tournaments.
The Moroccan team had failed to beat their Tunisian counterpart in their official encounters in recent years. Indeed, in 2004, Tunisia beat Morocco in the final game of the CAN 2004 to win that championship and disqualified it from partaking in the 2006 world cup finals. Furthermore, Tunisia had started preparation for this tournament way before Morocco. By the time Moroccan players were assembled, Tunisia had played three exhibition games. They beat the Basque country and Sudan by the scores of 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, and tied 0-0 with Catalonia. FC Barcelona’s Victor Valdes, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Sergeo Busquets, and Gerard Pique were among the starters on the Catalonia team. The legendary Cruyff who coached Catalonia said after the game, “This Tunisia team is pretty good. We were all surprised by how well they played.” Tunisia has another exhibition game against Ivory Coast before the start of the tournament. Yassine Chikhaoui, Oussama Darragi, and Amine Chermiti, the Eagles of Carthage star trio are expected to play
In the second game, Morocco will play Gabon. Gabon is not only one of the two host countries but a team that beat Morocco in one their more recent encounters by a score of 2-1 in Casablanca. Not only that, but Gabon has a solid under 23 team which qualified for the London Olympics and won the under 23 African Cup of Nations tournament held in Morocco by beating the host nation only few weeks back.
To make the situation more ominous for the Moroccan team, some of the players it is counting on have not seen much playing time for their teams, which raises questions about their readiness for the tournament. Indeed, Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh has been sidelined for months with very few appearances. Mounir Hamdaoui of Ajax has been missing in action so much so that he has not even been selected for the squad. Those betting on Morocco’ s upcoming star Oussama Essaidi have to contend with the fact that he has been suffering from back problems which sidelined him just weeks ago.
While the prognosis for a strong showing of the Moroccan team in the CAN 2012 appears questionable, it is well established that a lot can happen very quickly in the game of soccer.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti
Jamal Laoudi is a Moroccan national. He received a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s of Art in Economics. He is employed with the Adelphi Research Laboratory and serves as an independent consultant in Computational Linguistics. He contributes to various news and community portals including Aljazeeratalk.net, Moroccoworldnews.com, and wafin.com.
© Morocco World News