Morocco – Ivory Coast
Al Salaam Stadium, Cairo
Morocco sealed a round of 16 spot on Friday night, defeating Ivory Coast 1-0 at the Al Salaam Stadium in Cairo.
Leganese striker Youssef En-Nesyri scored the only goal of the game, in the first half.
The 22 year old forward who was a menace for the Elephants all night long, slotted in past goal keeper Slyvian Gbohouo after he was teed up by the impressive Nordin Amrabat.
By the time the goal came, Morocco should have been in the lead already by En-Nesyri tapped wide a delicious Nabil Dirar cross from the right.
Ivory Coast failed to get going, struggling to create clear-cut chances throughout the game.
Their best chance in the first half came on 25 minutes after Lille’s Nicholas Pepe played in Max Gradel but Yassin Bounou in the Morocco goal, raced onto the ball before pushing it into the path of Pepe who in turn found the side net from an acute angle.
Midfielder Serey Die tried his luck from distance but his powerful shot was tipped over by the alert Bounou. Another shot from distance off Jean Michael Seri’s foot went wide of the target.
Ivory Coast defence who looked solid in the first game, left a lot to be desired, as they could not handle Morocco’s speedy attackers.
The 1-0 result does not do justice to how the game unfolded as the Atlas Lions could have scored more.
Amrabat who controlled the middle, linking up play with the forward superbly, saw an attempted through ball, for En-Neysri cut out expertly by Die towards the end of the first half.
The Al-Nassar midfielder also played a faint-touch to put En-Nasyri through on goal but the striker could not produce a similar result like earlier as Gbohouo dived low to save before gathering at the second attempt.
En-Nesyri also headed wide, while unmarked in the area, another Dirar delivery from the right, with 18 minutes to play.
Morocco felt they should have been awarded a penalty on 68 minutes after Ashraf Hakimi rolled down under pressure from Ismail Traore. However, Cameroonian referee Neant Alioum correctly waved protest away.
Unlike in the win against Namibia, Ajax Amsterdam winger Hakim Ziyech failed to assert his authority onto the game and was eventually substituted midway the second half.
In the last minute of the four added-on, Noussair Mazraoui hit the bar off a swift counter attack but the miss did not prove costly as his side took the day.
Ivory Coast who came into the game after defeating South Africa 1-0 in their opening game, saw almost all their stars fail to shine on the day.
Pepe was a shadow of the player that haunted Bafana Bafana and the likes of Jonathan Kodjia and Max Gradel also played a ‘missing in action’ role.
Wilfred Bony, introduced in the second half, had two half chances that he failed to convert while the Elephants best sniff on goal in the last 45 minutes, saw Traore’s over head kick saved-low by Bounou.
Talismanic winger Wilfred Zaha didnot feature in the game, a decision which will indeed raise eyebrows back at home.
After the victory, Morocco now seal a round of 16 spot and will only be playing for top spot in the group when they take on South Africa in the last game.
With Bafana Bafana expected to defeat Namibia later on Friday, the Elephants now require three more points in their last game to ensure they reach the knockout stage.
The other games on Friday
-Tunisia 1-1 Mali
-South Africa vs Namibia @11pm