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Morocco to continue selection policy despite tensions

© Reuters 2002

By Mark Gleeson

SEGOU, Mali, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Morocco coach Humberto Coelho is to continue looking for players among the growing immigrant community in Europe despite reported conflicts within his squad.

There has been speculation about tension between players brought up in Europe and those hailing from Morocco during the current African Nations Cup, with English-based defender Abdesslam Ouaddou sent home last weekend after a dispute with one of his team mates.

Former African Footballer of the Year Mustapha Hadji, who was not selected for the tournament in Mali, also claimed this month there was a "poisonous atmosphere" in the squad between the two disparate groups.

Morocco, like neighbours Algeria and fellow north Africans Tunisia, have turned increasingly in recent years to players from the large immigrant communities in Europe, many of them born in countries like France and the Netherlands.

"After the Nations Cup, I'll be holding another training camp in Europe to which I am going to invite more players with Moroccan links to try out for the national side," Coelho said before Morocco's group B match on Saturday against Burkina Faso.

"Obviously, it is difficult to integrate these players into the group. Some of them don't even speak any Arabic or understand the culture, but if they are available to play for Morocco then we should look at them," the coach added. "The challenge is to try and get them to fit in."

Coelho, who took his native Portugal to the European Championship semifinals in 2000, held a week-long training camp last year in the Netherlands, from which Rotterdam-born Nourdin Boukari emerged to win a place in the Nations Cup squad.

French-born Gharib Amzine is the only other squad member born in Europe but many others, like Hadji, left Morocco at early ages with their parents, effectively only renewing links with their home country after being selected to play for Morocco.

Hadji was not picked, Coelho said, because he had an ankle injury and was showing little enthusiasm for the national team.

"Hadji said he did not want to play and I respect that," Coelho said. "I also respect the decision of Hassan Kachloul who said he did not want to come to the Nations Cup. It is better that they told me before the tournament than after it started."

Kachloul is a team mate of Hadji's at English premier league club Aston Villa.

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