BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS defender Faycal Rherras insists his summer switch to Tynecastle has helped him toughen up to become a star for club and country.
The 24-year-old arrived in Gorgie from Belgian outfit St. Truiden and has immediately made the left-back berth his own, making 10 appearances and scoring his first goal for the club in last month’s 3-3 draw against Inverness.
His displays in the capital have also caught the eye of Morocco boss Herve Renard, with the two-time African Cup of Nations-winning coach drafting Rherras into the senior international set-up.
The marauding full-back won his second cap for the Atlas Lions on Tuesday evening, playing the first half in their 2-1 friendly victory against Togo – and he has no doubt that his time in Scotland is making him a more complete player.
Rherras said: “There is an enormous intensity to Scottish football and every single team puts a lot of physical pressure on you. It is something you need to adjust to.
“But I think this British style of the game suits my attributes and I feel like I am improving all the time and becoming a better player.
“I am learning and I am progressing, and I feel more comfortable every time I go onto the pitch.
“I am proud that has allowed me to break into the full Morocco set-up and when you work alongside players of the calibre of [Juventus defender] Mehdi Benatia it can only help you learn.”
Rherras’ previous experience of international football proved one to forget, as he contracted a case of malaria in Equatorial Guinea in September.
He was subsequently confined to a hospital bed on his return to Morocco, and recalls of that stint with the national side: “I felt bad from the start and just could not give 100 per cent like I wanted”.
Nevertheless, he did enough to retain his place in Renard’s squad and is now determined earn a place in the 23-man roster for January’s African Cup of Nations in Gabon.
Morocco will be up against continental champions Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Togo in Group C – and ambitious Rherras is targeting Africa’s biggest prize.
He told mountakhab.net: “It is a very strong group full of beautiful nations but, as everyone knows, there are no weak teams at this sort of tournament.
“The goal is to win the trophy and to do that we will have to beat everyone.”
Meanwhile, Hearts are set to confirm the signing of former Reading youngster Zidan Akers.
The 17-year-old winger has impressed Jambos boss Robbie Neilson during a recent trial period and scored against St Mirren’s under-20 side on Monday night.
Akers, who has also turned out for the Wallingford and Oxford United youth sides, has agreed to make the switch north of the border and will formally complete the move when the transfer window opens in January.
It is expected the teenager will be primarily used in Jon Daly’s under-20 side and his capture does not affect Neilson’s desire to sign a more experienced winger.