Derby win would ease Safri's pain
RICK WAGHORN Norwich City midfielder Youssef Safri is desperately hoping this Sunday's Coca-Cola Championship derby clash with Ipswich Town at Carrow Road (11.15am) can help put the smile back on his face after last month's African Cup of Nations heartbreak.
Norwich City midfielder Youssef Safri is desperately hoping tomorrow's Coca-Cola Championship derby clash with Ipswich Town at Carrow Road (11.15am) can help put the smile back on his face after last month's African Cup of Nations heartbreak.
Morocco - traditionally seen as one of the powerhouses of African football - went out of the tournament at the very first hurdle having failed to even score a goal in their three group games.
A 1-0 defeat and two goalless draws left the 29-year-old City favourite thoroughly disappointed and disillusioned as, back home, Moroccan MPs debated launching a full-scale Parliamentary inquiry into what went so horribly wrong.
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“The poor performance of Morocco in Egypt touched all Moroccans,” said senator Mohamed Mansouri.
Little wonder that, as Safri returns to his day job with the Canaries, he is looking for the perfect pick-me-up in the shape of a derby win. “That would be so nice - that would put the smile back on my face,” said Safri. “The way we went out of the tournament was so disappointing. It was the worst major tournament of my life. To go out without even scoring a goal was so disappointing.”
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Nor is he slow to point a finger of blame - at the Morrocan Football Federation who, two weeks before the start of the tournament and just two months into his managerial reign, opted to sack the vastly experienced Frenchman Philippe Troussier and replace him with Mohammed Fakhir.
“The Federation did not help the players,” said Safri. “What other country has ever sacked the manager two weeks before the start of a major tournament? It was a big, big problem.”
Morocco's problems were, of course, Norwich's gain as Safri returned to the fold rather earlier than he hoped.
“It is nice to be back, to see all the boys smiling in my face,” said Safri, well aware of what derby days mean.
“I know it is a massive game. I played in the first one this season at Portman Road and there was a great atmosphere. But it is the same as when Morocco play Egypt, Algeria or Tunisia. The fact that we've lost four of our last five games means that we really want to win this game.”
Safri's absence can be directly linked to City's poor run. He last played for them in the 1-0 win at Leicester on New Year's Eve, since when they have collected one point out of a possible 12 in the Championship, and gone out of the FA Cup.
Indeed, City have not won a league match without Safri since they beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2 at Carrow Road on February 5, 2005 - with tomorrow's game against Ipswich coming exactly one year on.
Safri is likely to be one of at least four changes manager Nigel Worthington is likely to make on the back of his whirlwind ride on the transfer merry-go-round at the end of last month.
As well as Safri's return, the Canary boss is expected to hand his three new boys - £2.75 million striker Rob Earnshaw and the on-loan pairing of Fulham defender Zesh Rehman and Charlton front man Jonatan Johansson - their first starts.
Who makes way for the arrival of the cavalry is the next big poser. Will the prospect of a Johansson-Earnshaw strike partnership prompt a return to a 4-4-2 formation after December's highly successful run with a 4-3-3 line-up?
Worthington was giving little away yesterday, other than to state simply that Earnshaw, Johansson and Rehman would all be “in the squad”.
One suggestion is that club skipper Craig Fleming could revert back to right-back, with Rehman playing alongside Gary Doherty in the centre of defence.
Further forward, the big question mark is that much-debated right-sided midfield role where the nod could either go to a definite warrior in the shape of Andy Hughes or to Paul McVeigh.
Peter Thorne will possibly make way for Johansson. Carl Robinson is in the squad, but not yet deemed fit enough to start following his rib and lung injuries.
ÜCity defender Simon Charlton will be suspended for next Saturday's Coca-Cola Championship match at Hull. Charlton picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the 4-0 defeat at Reading.