Moroccans will miss out as Hibs return

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HIBS' Moroccan stars Merouane Zemmama and Abdessalam Benjelloun will be missing when John Hughes' squad report back for pre-season training on Thursday, the Evening News can reveal today.

But the pair, who spent last season on loan in the Middle East and Belgium respectively, will be expected to rejoin their team-mates at a later date.

Zemmama and Benji have been given permission for a later return having been involved in Morocco's international squad which played in a World Cup qualifying match against Togo in Rabat just last weekend.

While there has been intense speculation as to the future of the North African stars, they both remain under contract to Hibs and new Easter Road boss Hughes has already expressed his desire to have both featuring in his plans.

Striker Benji was shipped out to Belgian outfit Royal Charleroi after falling out of former manager Mixu Paatelainen's plans and then moved on to another Jupiler League side Roeselare, where he scored five goals in their last six matches as they retained their place in the top flight following a four-way play-off.

However, he has a year left on his deal in Edinburgh and Hughes will sit down with him immediately on his return to talk things over, the Hibs boss having already made clear his determination to "inspire" Benji back to the sort of form he displayed to help lift the CIS Cup two years ago.

Zemmama's situation, though, remains complex. The midfielder, who has two years of his contract to run, has indicated he's more than willing to play in a green-and-white shirt again but it remains to be seen whether his teenage wife Zenib can obtain a visa to enter this country.

She was refused permission due to being under the age of 18 and, on compassionate grounds, Hibs allowed Zemmama to sign a season-long loan deal with Al Sha'ab in the United Arab Emirates so he could be with his wife.

The intention was that the couple would return this summer after Zenib turned 18, but last November the Home Office raised the age limit, aimed at preventing forced marriages, to 21.

Hibs have been striving to cut through the red tape for months but, while they remain optimistic the affair can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, permission has yet to be granted for Zenib and the couple's recently-born child to join Zemmama in the Capital.

Meanwhile, Hibs have revealed admission for their friendly against Dunfermline at East End Park on Saturday, 18 July, will be 8 (adults) and 4 (concessions).

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