Morocco  Coach Eric Gerets  is hopeful of securing a result as the Atlas Lions arrived in Banjul ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifier  against the Scorpions of Gambia  at the Independence Stadium in Bakau on Saturday.
The Belgian was speaking to Observer Sports in an exclusive interview at the team's base at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Cape Point following their arrival in Banjul last evening. The team is also accompanied by former Sporting Lisbon, Deportivo La Coruna and Tottenham Hotspur defender, Noureddine Naybet, who now works with the Moroccan FA.
Gerets played for Standard de Liège, AC Milan, MVV Maastricht and PSV Eindhoven, winning among others the 1987-88 European Cup, two Belgian championships and six Dutch championships and earned the nickname The Lion (of Flanders) because of the combination of his warriors heart, beard and dark long hair. His reported 250,000 Euros [salary] makes him the highest paid national team coach in the world, a salary equivalent to nine of the coaches combined of other national teams participating in the African Cup.
The former FC Kaiserslautern, VfL Wolfsburg, Galatasaray SK and Olympique de Marseille coach, revealed that he spent 10 days in camp with his team and believes they are now ready for the big game against the Scorpions as they prepare to open their campaign on a strong note.
He also said that his side have studied the Gambian team and know what they have to know after watching Gambia's videos in the last games they played in the qualifiers. But he was quick to add that it will be difficult since according to him the Scorpions play very good attacking football contrary to the hard tackling employed by several African sides.
Ahead of the Gambia game, Morocco lost 1-0 to the Terenga Lions of Senegal in Rabat, but Gerets believes that would have no bearing on tomorrow's game. He said that while Morocco and Ivory Coast might be termed as favorites on paper, the Scorpions are a side that cannot be underestimated.
English Premier League duo Adel Taarabt and Marouane Chamakh were both left out of Gerets' squad for the Scorpions. But while admitting that the Arsenal star's omission was down to his limited playing time with the Gunners, Gerets blatantly refused to speak about Queens Park Rangers' Tarabt who has a bad disciplinary record with several of his former coaches and once clashed with the Belgian himself.
"I wouldn't talk about the players that are not here but I hope that this will be the last time that Chamakh will be dropped from the squad because this is the first time that he has been dropped from the team. Chamakh didn't play with Arsenal last month, so it's only natural for him to be excluded from the squad," Gerets told Observer Sports. "But I hope he eventually returns to the team," he added.
Chamakh, who joined Arsenal in the summer of 2010, played only 11 games with the Gunners this season. According to several media reports, the 28-year-old striker could leave the club as early as this summer. [Younis] Belhanda [Montpellier] the coach added is one of the upcoming stars for the team and not their star player while adding that they have a very good team which does not depend on any individual. Along with with Chamakh, he failed to include Youssouf Hadji (Stade Rennais) and Badr Al-Kaddouri (Dynamo Kiev).
Gerets' fat salary coupled with the elimination of Morocco from the 2012 African Cup of Nations competition at the group stages caused much disgruntlement among Moroccans, most of who called on the Moroccan Federation of Football to sack him. But to the dismay of Moroccan fans, their calls fell on deaf ears, as, according to the daily newspaper Al Massae, Eric Gerets told a Belgian newspaper that he was asked by the King of Morocco to continue as coach of the Atlas Lions.
This statement, which reportedly put the Moroccan King in an awkward position, caused the Moroccan Federation of Football to summon Gerets and ask him to explain his statement to the press.Having overcome all those hurdles, Gerets told Observer Sports that the Moroccan fans were dreaming a little bit high over the team's Cup of Nations chances. "We were a little bit unlucky at the Africa Cup of Nations especially in our game against Tunisia which we could have won likewise the Gabon game but I think everyone was dreaming a little bit too high," he added.
The Belgian described himself as a fighter and wouldn't relent on his efforts as he hopes to bring World Cup football to this North African country for the first time since their group stage elimination at the 1998 edition in France.