Belfast Telegraph

Experts criticise Morocco for playing ‘warrior’ Nordin Amrabat after concussion

Morocco were desperately unlucky to lose 1-0 to Portugal but their brave display has been overshadowed by a player-welfare controversy.

Concussion experts have heavily criticised Morocco’s decision to let Nordin Amrabat play against Portugal on Wednesday, only five days after he sustained a concussion in their match against Iran.

The North African side lost 1-0, despite outplaying the European champions, and now have no chance of progressing to the knockout stage.

The 31-year-old Amrabat, who spent last season with Spanish side Leganes on loan from Watford, started the game wearing a scrum cap but took it off after 15 minutes.

The fact he was playing at all was a surprise as the Moroccan FA had said after the Iran game that he would need at least a week off, as the ‘return to play’ protocol for concussions requires.

When asked by reporters after the match why Amrabat played, Renard said: “He’s a warrior – he wanted to play.

“He put protection on but he took it off. It’s because his spirit is amazing and I’m lucky to have a player like him.

“I’m not a doctor – medical reports are read by competent people, I’m not responsible for medical matters.

“I think he showed that he played an outstanding match. I can’t tell you anymore.”

While it is true that Amrabat was among Morocco’s best performers in the Group B clash at the Luzhniki Stadium, the world footballers’ union FIFPro was far from impressed.

In a statement released to Press Association Sport, FIFPro said: “This is yet another alarming example of a player being put in harm’s way. Amrabat returned to action too soon according to medical guidelines.

“Four years on from the debacle of the last World Cup, where several players did not receive adequate care, football has not made sufficient progress in concussion management. Repeated calls to implement world-class safety standards have been overlooked.”

British brain injury charity Headway agreed with the union’s player-welfare concerns, saying it was a breach of FIFA’s own guidelines on how to treat concussions.

Headway chief executive Peter McCabe said: “On the face of it this appears to be a scant disregard for FIFA’s concussion protocols.

“The decision to allow this player to take to the field not only put his short and long-term health and career at risk but it also set an appalling example for the millions of fans and players around the world.

“FIFA must act – and act decisively – in order to send a clear message that breaches of this vital safety protocol will not be tolerated.”

McCabe also pointed out that wearing head gear gives a “false impression” of safety and should not be encouraged.

In regards to the game, Renard was equally defiant.

“I’m not disappointed with the performance – I’m very proud of my players and this country,” he said.

“We didn’t get the goals we should have had but we’re here in Moscow and it felt like we were playing in Casablanca. That’s something you can’t take away from the fans, some drove all the way here.”

He also said Portugal’s goal, scored somewhat inevitably by Cristiano Ronaldo, should not have counted as Portugal’s pantomime villain Pepe helped the Real Madrid star get free by fouling his marker.

“Have a good look at the corner when Portugal scored, have a look at what number three is doing and write your own analysis,” said Renard.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos admitted his side played poorly but did not agree on Renard’s assessment of the goal.

Santos said: “Who pushed Pepe? He was pushed first by the Moroccan player – Pepe just defended himself. It could have been a penalty.”

He described Portugal’s performance as lacking “intensity” and suggested there may have been “some anxiety”. He also acknowledged that Morocco gave his players the run-around at times, just as Spain did in their first game.

But when you have a player like Ronaldo, you can lose most of the battles and still win the war.

Asked how the 33-year-old was still doing it, Santos said: “He’s got a great coach!

“He’s like a port wine, he knows how to age well. He’s constantly evolving. He’s not doing what he was three or four years ago.”

Apart from scoring, that is.

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