Hibs boss' fear over Zouma's World Cup trip

HIBS boss John Hughes today admitted he can only keep his fingers crossed that midfield playmaker Merouane Zemmama returns unharmed from international duty with Morocco.

Zemmama has reported, along with Easter Road team-mate Abdessalam Benjelloun, for his country's must-win World Cup clash against Togo in Lome on Sunday, having played only 30 minutes of first-team football this season.

And, Hughes revealed, he travelled with a question mark against his fitness following a thigh injury picked up just 24 hours before Hibs' final pre-season match against Bolton Wanderers.

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Although Zemmama made an appearance as a substitute against Celtic at the weekend, Hughes believes the 25-year-old was still showing signs of being troubled by his thigh.

Hughes, however, was powerless under FIFA rules to prevent Zemmama making the gruelling journey, leaving him hoping Moroccan coach Hassan Moumen doesn't take any chances with the player's fitness.

Moumen, though, is under pressure after the North African nation made a catastrophic start to their World Cup campaign, taking only two points from their opening three matches and are currently trailing group leaders Gabon, who have played a game fewer, by four points.

Hughes said: "I'll be interested to see if Zouma plays. Looking at him on Sunday he was always at that thigh. The rules insist that players must report for international duty so we had to let him go."

While he's well aware of the importance of the match to Morocco – Togo are in second place in their group – Hughes revealed he was heartened by the treatment Zemmama received when he joined up with his national squad for last month's friendly against Congo.

At that time, of course, Zemmama was injured but obliged to travel and didn't play. Hughes said: "The last time they sent him for a scan on the injury and he came back here with it but all I can do is look on with interest from a distance."

Having seen goalkeeper Yves Ma-Kalambay pull out of the Belgian squad due to face Spain in La Coruna this weekend after the hip injury which prevented him playing against Brechin City and Celtic flared up again, Hughes will also be fretting on the health of defender Sol Bamba who has made the arduous journey to play for the Ivory Coast's home match against Burkina Faso.

He said: "It's frustrating to have players away but I would never stand in anyone's way."

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Ma-Kalambay reported back to East Mains yesterday and immediately began receiving treatment for his problem, although he did manage to take part in a training session.