Morocco reached the knockout stage of the Africa Cup of Nations after beating Ivory Coast 1-0 on Friday to serve notice that they are one of the sides to beat at the tournament in Egypt.
Youssef En-Nesyri’s 23rd-minute goal ensured a second win in Group D for Morocco, who move onto six points and join fellow heavyweights Algeria, Egypt, and Nigeria with a 100 percent record.
The win came after a polished performance by the North African side, one of the pre-tournament favorites but whose only success in the continental championship came 43 years ago.
The goal was brilliantly crafted by Noureddine Amrabat's mazy run as he eliminated four players, before a short ‘no-look’ pass set up En-Nesyri for a left-footed finish.
The pair continued to combine and threaten throughout the game and Morocco could have added one or two more to secure a more decisive victory.
A strong counter-attacking run by Morocco fullback Achraf Hakimi almost led to a second goal in the 34th minute as Amrabat played a smart dummy to allow En-Nesyri a shot.
The tall striker from Leganes, however, hit his effort straight at Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.
Just before that, a mistake by Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou almost allowed the Ivorians to equalize. He came out to clear but allowed the ball to spill, only for Serey Die to hit the side netting.
Morocco managed to snuff out the danger of Ivorian striker Nicolas Pepe, but found substitute Wilfried Bony a handful to deal with. Bony’s aerial strength set up two half chances as the Ivorians surprisingly left Wilfried Zaha on the bench.
Pepe, fresh from a goal-filled season in Ligue 1, eventually did get an effort on target with an acrobatic bicycle kick in the last minute but Bounou made a good stop to keep Morocco’s lead intact.
Morocco then had the last chance of the game with Hakimi’s run providing a cross for the unmarked Noussair Mazraoui, who only had to sidefoot the ball home but hit his effort against the crossbar.
The Ivory Coast stay on three points but will be confident of progressing out of the group phase with a game to come against minnows Namibia on Monday.
Namibia and South Africa will look for their first points of the tournament when they face each other in Group D later on Friday at the Al Salam Stadium.
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