Renard says Morocco ready for Benin test at Africa Cup of Nations
Morocco coach Hervé Renard warned his players to maintain their focus and not underestimate knockout stage debutants Benin on Friday in Cairo. Michel Dussuyer’s men scraped into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams in the newly expanded 24 side format.
With Morocco identified as one of the favourites for the Cup of Nations title, Renard conceded the pressure is on to live up to the billing.
“We're only in the last 16,” he said. “We have to concentrate on that match and ensure there are no nasty surprises.
"We just have to be ourselves and hope we can move on to the quarter-finals which will be an even harder match."
Renard, who led Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to the Cup of Nations crown in 2012 and 2015 respectively, urged midfielder Hakim Ziyech to express his talents more overtly at the business end of the tournament.
The 26-year-old was one of the leading lights as Ajax scuppered the Champions League ambitions of Real Madrid and Juventus before succumbing to Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals.
"This year Hakim took it to the next level at Ajax,” added Renard. “So we are asking him to move it up a notch at international level and we will all be with him so he can take us as far as possible.”
Morocco have not claimed the Cup of Nations since 1976 and victory would make 50-year-old Renard the only man to lead three different nations to the trophy.
"Hakim is a technical leader, the player we must take advantage of and who must help the others," said Renard. "He's the one who at any moment in a match is capable of providing the spark that makes the difference."
But even without Ziyech firing, there should be more than enough nous in the Morocco ranks to overpower an outfit with few household names and who will be without their leading striker in their first match in the knockout stages at their eighth participation.
Steve Mounié will be suspended for the clash at the Al Salam Stadium after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Cameroon.
"I’m very proud of the players,” said Dussuyer after the 0-0 draw against Cameroon. “We haven’t managed to win a game, which was our main aim, but we’re through after three draws. It’s a huge achievement and maybe we’ll win the next game.”