Reading is too soon for Safri

CHRIS WISE Youssef Safri's African Cup of Nations campaign drew to a close at the weekend - but he won't be back with Norwich City in time for tomorrow night's daunting trip to Reading.


Youssef Safri's African Cup of Nations campaign drew to a close at the weekend - but he won't be back with Norwich City in time for tomorrow night's daunting trip to Reading.

There were hopes that Morocco's early exit from the competition after failing to win a single game would have a beneficial knock-on effect on the Canaries, who have certainly missed their playmaker while he has been away.

The good news for City fans is that - fitness permitting - Safri will now be available for Sunday's East Anglian derby clash with Ipswich at Carrow Road.

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But any thoughts of an immediate return were dashed by the man himself who told the EDP from his Cairo hotel room that there was no way he could make it back in time for the encounter with the runaway Championship leaders at the Madejski Stadium.

“That will not be possible,” said Safri. “We will be in Egypt for the rest of the weekend and we will fly home to Morocco on Monday.

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“We will then have a chance to see our families before coming back to our clubs. It has been a very tiring spell for all of us and now we need some time to rest.”

Safri's country went into Saturday's final round of games with no more than an outside chance of qualification after taking just one point from their opening two fixtures against the Ivory Coast and Egypt. To make it through to the quarter-finals they had to beat unfancied Libya by an emphatic margin and hope that the hosts came unstuck against the Ivorians - but, as it turned out, both results went against the Moroccans.

An impressive 3-1 win for Egypt rendered Safri's fixture irrelevant, and that's just as well because a game of few clear-cut chances ended in a drab 0-0 draw.

It was a low-key end to a low-key tournament for the Moroccans, who also drew 0-0 with Egypt after losing their opening fixture 1-0 against the Ivory Coast. Safri played in all three games and did a solid job for his country in a defensive midfield role - but a lack of punch up front cost them dearly, and the City star had no complaints about the justice of their early exit.

Safri always feared his country would have an uphill task after the behind-the-scenes shambles that saw Mohammed Fakhir being called in as coach just before the tournament following the shock exit of Frenchman Philippe Troussier - and so it proved.

“I think we were unlucky with the penalty in our first game - we thought the foul took place outside the box,” he said. “But overall we didn't play as well as we can and if you can't score goals you are never going to win anything.

“It didn't really surprise me to be honest because you can't expect success when you change your coach just before a tournament. It was very difficult for us.”

Safri will be back in England in good time for the showdown with Ipswich next Sunday morning - and manager Nigel Worthington will be keeping his fingers crossed that the player will be ready for the physical demands of an East Anglian derby.

“It has been a very tough spell for me,” said Safri. “Since I have been away I have played six games in a short space of time - three friendlies and three games in this tournament. “I played in all the games in Egypt and only missed out on the last five minutes of the Libya game when I was substituted. It has been very hard physically because of the importance of the games and the fact that the weather has been very hot and at the moment I feel very tired.

“Hopefully I will be ready for Ipswich - but at the moment it's too early to say for certain.”

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