Chair’s World Cup journey, AFCON dreams with Morocco & QPR survival aims

30 November 2023 0 By Total Football News

Ilias Chair was in a very different place this time last year, both figuratively and literally.

For one, QPR were roughly around the top six in the Championship table, whereas now they are in the relegation zone. For the other he was in Qatar - as part of the Morocco squad that made history as the first African side to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.

The winger didn't see any action himself until the third-place play-off, but it is still a journey he will never forget.

"It was probably the best experience of my career, and something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," he tells Sky Sports. "I was proud to be part of that squad that made history, and I would go back to that time any day of the week.

"With club football you're here every day, with the same players who you sometimes see more than some of your family!

"International football is very different. You see each other maybe six or seven times a year. But we had that tournament and we were there for four weeks.

"We all believed we could go there and achieve something, and that's what we all did. We created a real bond, we still talk all the time and that's something that will never change."

Of all the Championship players who headed to the tournament, only Chair and Burnley's Anass Zaroury made it to the final weekend.

Chair and his fellow Moroccan found themselves in the somewhat unique scenario of being sat in Qatar as team-mates watching their clubs sides face each other.

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It was the latter who enjoyed it more, with Burnley running out 3-0 winners at Loftus Road last December.

"We watched it together and it wasn't a great result for QPR!" Chair says with a smile.

"Of course you're trying to keep in touch to see how things were going, but there were bigger things on my mind.

"We wanted to achieve something that had never been done before, and my main focus was on that."

Chair has been in and out of the Morocco squad since, but admits with his form not being the best in 2023 there are times he has been understandably left out by head coach Walid Regragui.

The 26-year-old maintains a good relationship with his international manager and hopes to force his way back into contention ahead of the African Cup of Nations in January.

"I speak to him or one of his assistants every couple of weeks," says Chair. "We chat about performances and just life in general. He's been really great with me.

"I'm still hopeful of going to AFCON and hopefully I can do that, but there are a lot players who want to play for Morocco now, after what we achieved.

"I've missed out on the last few squads but that's how it should be. I don't think because you're a big player for a big team you should get called up even if you're not performing.

"It should be based on performances and form, and to be honest I've not really been in form lately so it's fair play that I wasn't called up. But now we're picking up, and I'm going to do my best to get there."

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Watch highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between QPR and Stoke City

His determination to reach AFCON should be of benefit to QPR over the next few weeks after they picked up their first win in 13 games against Stoke in midweek, and will be feeling more confident as they head to Preston on Friday night - live on Sky Sports Football.

There is an air of positivity around the training ground we are sat in, the kind that is created by an upturn in results after a gloomy period.

"It's always nice to come in after you've won, especially when you deserved to win," says Chair.

"There's been a great atmosphere lately, especially since the new manager came in. There was a real sense of excitement because of how he wants us to play.

"I think the belief was always there. We've got enough quality in our squad that we shouldn't where we are are. He's given everyone a boost, and hopefully we can crack on now."

Chair is full of praise for his new boss Marti Cifuentes, the 41-year-old Spaniard who picked up his first win in his fourth game in charge, after two points from his first three attempts.

"The first day he came in and spoke to me and told me he wanted me to go out there and be as free as possible to do my thing," says Chair.

"We talk every day and he helps me try and improve my game, as I'm trying to do myself. He's been a real good match for me so far.

"He doesn't overcomplicate things. As a team we've not been in a great place, but we know individually we can do better and improve.

"He highlights things, and gives little details, and I go out there to give my all and try and improve myself.

"The main thing we needed as a group was to believe we can achieve big things. We shouldn't be satisfied with just a regular win, and we want to have consistency throughout the season. That's what he's brought, a style of play."

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Finn Azaz and Ilias Chair scored very similar goals in the EFL Championship on Saturday - but who did it better?

Despite the win in midweek, QPR are still mired in the relegation zone, six points adrift of safety.

But Chair has belief they can do the opposite of what happened last year, that they can drive upwards, rather than plummet down.

"It's been a difficult year for us. We have a young group and for a lot of the players it was their first real tough time in a relegation battle. It was tricky to navigate, but the older players have been doing a great job keeping us level-headed.

"All we can really keep doing is going out in every game and giving 100 per cent. That's all you can ask for.

"If you look at last year we were top six around this time and dropped out. So why is it not possible to do the same but in reverse?

"We've seen some crazy things in the Championship. As long as we believe in ourselves, anything is possible."

Chair's determination to be recalled for Morocco and his desire to get QPR out of trouble has you convinced he can make it happen.

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