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Twenty years later, young Moroccan
team aiming enjoy World Cup again

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Twenty years after their last World Cup, Morocco returned to the football’s showpiece event and will have their first match against Iran on Friday.

"We are among the youngest teams in this World Cup ...

"We like to have fun, to laugh, but we know how to be serious," said Mehdi Benatia, captain of the team whose average age is 27.2.

Addressing to media at the Saint Petersburg Stadium Thursday afternoon, Benatia said coming to the World Cup "absolutely extraordinary".

"This is a dream made true for many of us, with a lot of work behind," he said.

"We want to give joy to Moroccans."

Head coach Herve Renard, 49, tried to ease pressure off his players.

"Once you are here, you have to enjoy the moments.

"You shouldn’t feel the pressure too much.

"You just have to trust your group, your lineup, and yourself," he said.

When asked about the Iranian team, Renard said that they had been observing them for a long time, and were informed of their strategy.

"They have good midfielder, and three attacking players with very high level.

"They can attack very quickly," he said.

One of the Iranian players especially mentioned was Sardar Azmoun, the country’s fifth highest scorer of all time.

"We have no special plan against Azmoun.

"He is a very good player," Benatia said.

"He scored major goals for his team.

"But we respect the whole team."

"We prepare as much as possible.

"We are not a minor team.

"We have our strength as well," Renard said.

"We want to prove what we can do.

"We are a country that should be respected and we have a lot of assets."

"In a competition such as a World Cup, all players have a role to play.

"Sometimes you play five minutes, but it is the most important five minutes for your country and for your personal career.

"So you have to be highly motivated all the time, very focused," he said.

Morocco are currently on a run of 18 games unbeaten, including games against fellow World Cup teams Serbia, Nigeria, South Korea and Egypt.

Only Belgium and Spain have a better record going into Russia 2018.

"Tomorrow we will see who is mentally fit, who is ready to perform, to be relaxed and serious at the same time, and that one is going to win," said Renard.


Iran coach Carlos Queiroz: We are ready for the game

SAINT PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- Noting that the first match against Morocco here on Friday will be a must-win for both sides, Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz told press on Thursday afternoon that "we are ready".

Queiroz, 65, is the first coach in Iran to take the team to the World Cup twice.

This time the Asian team will be facing Morocco, Spain and Portugal in its group.

"It is impossible to imagine playing World Cup competition without pressure," he said.

"The moment we qualify for the World Cup, we have the right to enjoy it.

"We are happy to enjoy the pressure."

This is the fifth time that Iran will be playing at a World Cup.

Talking about Morocco, Queiroz said that it is a great team, with "very good players and they are very well prepared".

After 20 years of waiting, Friday evening will mark Morocco’s return to the global stage.

It is currently on a run of 18 games unbeaten, including games against World Cup teams Serbia, Nigeria, South Korea and Egypt.

"They are one of the favorite candidates to move into the second round, but we don’t tolerate anybody telling us that we are not capable of winning," said the Portugese.

"We don’t tolerate anybody undermining our expectations and our hopes.

"We are here to compete with the favourites."

He believed that the best medicine (to cope with pressure) in football is to win.

"The teams that start winning have good advantage, good morale, motivation and confidence."

"Our players are full of enthusiasm and we have a chance," he said, adding that he hoped the team could defend as much as possible with confidence to win the ball, and attack with wise decisions.

"No matter what happens on the pitch, I want my players to ... leave the pitch bringing home pride and happiness," he said.



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