Despite the late autumn sunshine and pleasant temperatures, smiles were few and far between at Bordeaux's Le Haillan training ground on Thursday morning. The previous evening had seen Laurent Blanc's men slump to their second defeat in Group A of the UEFA Champions League after Roma departed the Jacques Chaban-Delmas with a 3-1 win.
One man intent on lightening the mood was striker Marouane Chamakh, who was full of good humour when he caught up with FIFA.com after a quick jog through the woods. However, having shared a joke or two with the ground staff, the Moroccan's face fell at the mere mention of the evening before.
"The match just sums up our season," laments Chamakh. "We had some really cruel luck and although we played very well at times, we've been paying for the slightest mistake ever since we've hit this rut. What's so infuriating is to lose by such a big margin when there wasn't really that much difference between the sides."
In the eyes of many pundits, the tall striker has been one of Bordeaux's most impressive players in recent matches despite a relatively unimpressive return of only one goal in seven outings this season.
Determined to concentrate on the positive, Chamakh is focusing his thoughts on a return to international duty with Morocco having missed their last four South Africa 2010 qualifying matches due to a knee injury he picked up in June. That return should come a week on Saturday when the Atlas Lions take on Mauritania in Rabat.
"I'm anxious to get back into action and I need to channel that a little," he says. "."
Only a win against the Mauritanians will do if Chamakh and his team-mates are to snatch first place in Group 8 away from Rwanda and reach the third and final qualifying round by right.
"We're the big favourites for this match and simply can't afford to slip up," warns Chamakh. "There are some games that you just have to win and this is one of them. Even so, there's no need for us to go and put a lot of pressure on ourselves."
However, with six points already in the bank following Ethiopia's withdrawal and eight third-round slots on offer for the best runners-up in the 12 African groups, the only way Morocco can miss out on a place in the next phase is if they lose next Saturday's clash at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah. Although that outcome might look remote, the North Africans' new coach Roger Lemerre will be warning his troops against complacency.
"It's great to have him by our side," continues Chamakh. "He's brought a lot of know-how and experience with him and we spend more time talking than actually training (laughs). He often talks about the great France team of 2000 and he knows what makes the truly great players tick. It's up to us to make the most of his advice and our aim as a group is to become even stronger."
Absent from Germany 2006 and disappointing in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations since losing in the 2004 final to Tunisia, Chamakh and Co are desperate to return to the big stage.
"If you look at the team we've got, there's definitely the potential to achieve big things. The hardest part is confirming that potential now by reaching the next round and giving it everything we've got once we're there. I know that if we stay focused and stick together we will make it to South Africa in 2010."
The football-crazy Moroccans will expect nothing less.
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