Morocco v Benin: Atlas Lions urged to not underestimate Squirrels
Romain Saiss believes Benin's exploits against Ghana and Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations group stage proves they have the ability to worry Morocco in Friday's last-16 clash.
Morocco cruised through Group D with a maximum nine points after winning all three of their games, yet there was an element of unfulfillment at the same time.
A trio of 1-0 results saw the team fail to truly sparkle, despite boasting an impressive squad that includes Ajax star Hakim Ziyech.
The 26-year-old attacking midfielder has been encouraged by coach Herve Renard to rediscover his club form at international level, while Saiss accepts Benin are not a side who should be taken likely after drawing with Ghana and Cameroon in Group F.
"Benin, who qualified from a difficult group, were able to score two goals against Ghana and trouble Cameroon, the defending champions," Saiss told reporters.
"For all these reasons, we must be vigilant and not underestimate our opponent to claim to achieve a good result.
"We had a lot of difficulties in the first round, but we are determined to reach the qualification goal, which is the quarter-finals.
"We will start a new chapter of the competition where we are no longer entitled to make errors."
Benin have done well to even reach the knockout phase, given their difficult group and the fact they drew all three of their first-round games.
Few will expect them to go any further than the last 16, but if they do then coach Michel Dussuyer will have triumphed over a friend and former Cannes team-mate.
"I know Herve well, our relationship goes beyond that of coach-to-coach," Dussuyer said. "I am very happy with his journey to where he is today. For African football, he has done an exceptional job.
"I know the difficulty of the task ahead. Although I am aware of this, I also know that we will be keen to give everything in this game. We will play to the fullest of our abilities.
"This Morocco team I know well. They are a candidate for the title, it is a team that has talent. It's a big team and a big challenge for us."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Benin – Mama Seibou
Against Cameroon, Seibou was effective from a combative perspective in midfield, making a team-high three tackles, two interceptions and he also gained possession five times. Benin will need similar doggedness off the ball again against Morocco.
Morocco – Hakim Ziyech
Yet to really hit the heights expected of him, Ziyech will surely be eager to step up against Benin after his coach urged him to do better. Everyone knows just how good he is, though the Africa Cup of Nations is yet to see that this year.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This will be the second encounter between Morocco and Benin in the Africa Cup of Nations. Morocco won the first one, back on January 31, 2004.
- Morocco have won their last three games in the Africa Cup of Nations (1-0 each time). They have won four in a row only once in AFCON history, during the 1976 edition when they lifted their only continental trophy.
- Benin are winless in their 12 AFCON games (D4 L8). If they do not win against Morocco, the Squirrels will become the team who have played the most games in the tournament without winning once (13).
- Benin have kept a clean sheet in each of their last two games, after failing to do so in their first 10 in the tournament (22 goals conceded).
- Morocco's coach Herve Renard has lost only three of his 26 games managed in the Africa Cup of Nations (11.5 per cent), winning 13 and drawing 10.