Morocco happy to be Dutch representatives in Russia
SAINT PETERSBURG - Morocco coach Herve Renard has welcomed the support of Louis van Gaal as fans in the Netherlands rally behind his squad -- containing five Dutch-born players -- at the World Cup.
The Atlas Lions begin their first World Cup campaign for 20 years against Iran in Saint Petersburg on Friday.
But Renard has had to make the most of the Moroccan diaspora in Europe to get Morocco back on the biggest stage, with 17 of the 23-man squad born outside the country.
The Netherlands' failure to qualify means Morocco have become the adopted side of many in Holland, with former Manchester United and Barcelona boss Van Gaal personally sending his support to Renard and his squad on Thursday.
"This morning I received the message. Of course I was very happy, very proud for Morocco and for myself, because he's a big coach," said Renard.
"We know why your country is supporting a lot Morocco. We have some players who could play for your national team and we are proud to have them in our team."
The most promising of Morocco's five-strong Dutch-born contingent is Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who was once called up by the Netherlands before deciding to represent Morocco.
Ziyech won the Eredivisie player of the year last season and Renard hopes the World Cup gives him the stage to win a big-money move to a top European league.
"I wish him all the best to find the best club possible because he has all the talent to do that," said Renard.
"He is a very important player for us and for a coach like me it is fantastic to have a player with this skill.
"There are not a lot of players with this talent. He can see a lot of things before other players (can). In one word, he is a fantastic player."
Renard has carved out a reputation as a specialist in African football, winning the African Nations Cup with Zambia and the Ivory Coast before leading Morocco back to the biggest stage.
His experiences in club football have been less successful in short spells in France with Sochaux and Lille and Cambridge United in England.
However, he said he and his team will not settle for just making it to the World Cup.
"I'm a beginner but I have to live this experience with a lot of intensity. We are not here to take pictures of monuments in St. Petersburg, we are here to compete," he said.