Safri - I do feel a bit torn

Youssef Safri today admitted he felt torn between performing for his club and his country - but was determined to give everything for Morocco during the African Nations Cup.

Norwich City midfielder Youssef Safri today admitted he felt torn between performing for his club and his country - but was determined to give everything for Morocco during the African Nations Cup.

The 29-year-old, who is currently in Marrakesh where the Atlas Lions are playing two friendlies against Zimbabwe and Angola, was aware that the Canaries had tried to get him released for club duty during the build-up to the competition - a move blocked by the Moroccan FA - and felt sorry for their plight.

“I do feel a bit sorry, to be honest,” said fans' favourite Safri. “But we have a new manager who has only been in charge of the team for a very short time and needs to see all the players in action.

“I can't say no when asked to play for my country. I didn't see the fax but everybody is clear about the situation,” he added.

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Safri admitted he's received text messages of good luck from team-mates Craig Fleming, Darren Huckerby and Paul McVeigh and that kind of gesture of support has made him feel torn.

“It does make you feel a little bit that way,” he said. “It's great to know that you have that kind of support from your team-mates.

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“I don't expect Norwich to struggle without me, though, as there are still some very good midfielders at the club.”

Safri has already been in action for his country, being substituted at half time as Morocco cruised to a 3-0 victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo in a warm-up match.

“It was a good game and the team played well,” said Safri, who is one of 17 foreign-based players in the squad. “There are no injuries in the squad and there is a very good team spirit.

“Some players have returned to the team also that hadn't played for a while like Chippo and Naybet and everybody is very happy with that.”

Morocco coach Mohammed Fakkir has named veteran defender Noureddine Naybet and Mustapha Chippo in his 23-man squad for the African Nations Cup as they bid to at least equal their showing at the last competition, when they lost 2-1 to hosts Tunisia in the final.

Fakkir, with whom Safri is familiar from his days at Raja Casablanca, was brought in only last week after Frenchman Philippe Troussier was summarily sacked just two months after taking over at the helm.

“I have worked with Fakkir before when I was at Raja Casablanca and I know his systems and the way that he plays and all the players are very happy with the manager,” declared Safri, who was given only one day to visit his friends and family before joining the Moroccan squad a week ago.

“I hope that we can reach the semis or even go all the way to the final,” he added.

While Fakkir complained of having just two weeks to prepare the squad for African football's showpiece, he was happy with the 3-0 victory over DR Congo on Monday.

The Atlas Lions have two other friendlies, against Zimbabwe - due to take place today - and Angola on Tuesday.

Morocco, who are seeking consolation in this event as they failed to make the World Cup finals, are in a tough Group A along with hosts Egypt, World Cup finalists Ivory Coast and Libya.

Their first group match is against Ivory Coast next Saturday, January 21. Morocco then play hosts Egypt on January 24 and underdogs Libya on January 28..

Were Morocco to make an early exit from the competition, Safri would then have a couple of days to fly back for City's game at Reading on January 31. But a successful campaign would rule him out of that fixture and the derby showdown with Ipswich at Carrow Road on Sunday, February 5, with the quarter-finals taking place on the preceding Friday and Saturday.

If Morocco go all the way to the final, Safri will also miss the trip to Hull on February 11.

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