Cairo, June 22: Herve Renard has challenged his Morocco players to help change the face of football on the continent as he begins his bid for a third Africa Cup of Nations title.
The Frenchman is the only manager to have won the tournament with two different countries, having done so with outsiders Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast three years later.
But Renard could not work his magic in the most recent edition in 2017 as Morocco crashed out to Egypt - hosts this time around - in the quarter-finals.
That was an improvement of sorts for the 1976 champions, though, as they have failed to make it out of the group stage in six of their last eight participations.
Reaching the knockout rounds will not be straightforward given that Morocco are in Group D with former winners Ivory Coast and South Africa, making this opener against minnows Namibia in Cairo all the more important.
Renard also guided the Atlas Lions to the World Cup last year - their first appearance at those finals in two decades - and he is now looking to make an impact in a wider sense in the expanded AFCON.
"This will be my seventh tournament," said Renard, whose first taste of African football came with Zambia in 2008.
"In terms of the image of Africa, this continent needs to improve because all around the world these days they can watch the tournament.
"This is a key tournament for our football - and I say our football because I consider I am part of Africa too.
"I have been on this continent for so many years now and sometimes I don't like the image we give to everybody so if we want more positive comments about us to come from other parts of the world then we need to improve."
Namibia are outside the world's top 100 in the FIFA rankings and are winless in their six previous AFCON matches - only Mozambique (12) and Benin (nine) have played more games at the tournament without a victory.
But Ricardo Mannetti's men finished above Mozambique and Zambia in qualifying and are looking to make an impact in their third participation, 11 years on from their group-stage exit in Ghana.
"I would like to remind the big boys that even small dogs have teeth," Mannetti warned after Namibia booked their place in the tournament.
"We will be the best underdogs at the AFCON. We are not saying that we are going there to beat any big team we will face in our group, but we will take it one game at a time."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Morocco - Hakim Ziyech
Coming off the back of another impressive campaign for Dutch champions Ajax, Ziyech has been tipped to light up the big stage. He scored 21 goals in all competitions for his club side in 2018-19 - form that Renard will be keen for the attacking midfielder to replicate in Egypt over the next month.
Namibia - Peter Shalulile
The Brave Warriors scored just five goals across their six qualifying matches. Two of those were netted by Shalulile, including a crucial winner in the home meeting with Mozambique in October, giving him a return of four goals in his last six international games.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Morocco and Namibia's only previous AFCON encounter was in 2008. Morocco won 5-1 in the group stages - it featured the last hat-trick scored in an AFCON game prior to 2019, courtesy of Soufiane Alloudi. - This is Morocco's 17th AFCON participation - their sole title came in 1976. The only time they've reached the final since then was in 2004, losing 2-1 against hosts Tunisia. - Namibia's six AFCON matches have produced a total of 27 goals, an average of 4.5 per game. - This is Renard's fifth AFCON as manager – he's only lost three of his 23 games (W10 D10).