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Morocco's renaissance continues with CHAN 2018

Morocco's renaissance continues with CHAN 2018
From ESPN - January 12, 2018

Three years ago, Morocco ought to have been preparing to host the African Cup of Nations, but the country's refusal to continue as organisers in light of the Ebola virus precipitated a downturn from which they are only now picking themselves up.

Equatorial Guinea duly stepped in as last-minute tournament organisers, while Morocco - as punishment by the Confederation of African Football - were slapped with an initial $1 million fine and banned from competing in the next two editions of the AFCON.

Fast forward to 2018, and the North African nation have enjoyed an eye-catching - and largely unforeseen - renaissance.

As they prepare to host their first significant football tournament in 30 years, they now enjoy a greater standing within the continental hierarchy than they did before their abdication as AFCON hosts.

The 2018 CHAN, the biennial tournament for national teams forged from home-based players, kicks off on Saturday, and Morocco will surely be hoping that by hosting this tournament successfully, they will complete their turnaround from their pariah state in 2015.

Propitiously, Morocco head into this tournament boasting both a senior national team bound for the 2018 World Cup and, in Wydad Casablanca, the reigning CAF Champions League holders and the nation's first continental champions since 1999.

Both achievements are indicative of the nation's continued return to prominence within the continental context.

The first, admittedly, is due partly to the Ivory Coast's implosion under Michel Dussuyer and Marc Wilmots and their underperformance during qualifying for Russia. However, French coach Herve Renard also deserves major credit for forging together an excellent team that includes players from across Europe - including some at top clubs - and from the strong domestic league.

Arguably none of Africa's full senior sides are as organised as the Atlas Lions, who did not concede a single goal during World Cup qualification, and were it not for an ominous group stage draw that pits them against Spain and Portugal, they'd be strong bets for a spot in the Last 16.

Wydad's achievement in the Champions League - they overcame Egyptian giants Al-Ahly 2-1 over the two-legged final - saw them named as CAF's Club Team of the Year, while they were unfortunate to fall to Mexico's Pachuca in extra time of their Club World Cup quarter final.

They may be struggling in their title defence this term, but many of the squad that won a league and continental double last year will form the backbone of the Morocco side that are among the favourites for the CHAN title on home soil.

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