Morocco pip Ivory Coast to reach last-16; SA beat Namibia - GulfToday

Morocco pip Ivory Coast to reach last-16; SA beat Namibia

Youssef-en-nesyri

Morocco’s forward Youssef En-Nesyri (front) vies for the header with Ivory Coast’s Serge Aurier (back) during their Africa Cup of Nations match in Cairo on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Morocco coach Herve Renard masterminded another victory over his former team Ivory Coast on Friday as a 1-0 win sent the north Africans through to the last 16 in Egypt.

Youssef En Nesyri’s superb first-half goal in Cairo earned Renard and Morocco a third win in a row over an Ivorian side he coached to the Africa Cup of Nations title in 2015.

After ending Ivory Coast’s involvement at the 2017 edition and qualifying for last year’s World Cup at their expense, Morocco again got the better of their west African opponents in a meeting of the top two sides in Group D.

Morocco need a point in their final game against South Africa to be assured of top spot, although Ivory Coast will likely still join them in the knockout rounds as runners-up with a match to come against underdogs Namibia.

Jonathan Kodjia struck the winner in Ivory Coast’s opening 1-0 win over South Africa and the rangy Aston Villa forward nearly struck inside the first minute, connecting with Serge Aurier’s flighted cross only for Romain Saiss to brilliantly head over from under his own bar.

Morocco had toiled in the sweltering afternoon heat in their 1-0 victory over Namibia in their first game and they too went close in front of a mostly full Al Salam Stadium when En-Nesyri flashed a shot just the wrong side of the post from Nabil Dirar’s smart cross.

Leganes forward En-Nesyri put Morocco ahead on 23 minutes but it was the work from Nordin Amrabat that deserved much of the credit, the former Watford winger slaloming past three Ivorian defenders before slipping a cute ball through for En-Nesyri to slot beyond Sylvain Gbohouo.

Nicolas Pepe almost brought the Ivorians level moments later as the ball fell to him on the edge of the box after Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou knocked the ball away from Max Gradel, but the in-demand Lille star failed to hit the target with a pair of covering defenders.

Amrabat and En-Nesyri promptly combined once more to great effect, the former dummying intelligently to allow the forward a low strike at goal that Gbohouo saved well before falling on the rebound.

Midfielder Geoffrey Serey Die thumped just over from distance after a poor Bounou clearance as Ivory Coast struggled to carve out genuine openings while Younes Belhanda, back in the Morocco side after injury, forced Gbohouo to push over his curling effort. Ivory Coast substitute Wilfried Bony, without a club following his release by Swansea, planted a header wide with Ismael Traore’s spectacular overhead attempt smothered comfortably by Bounou.

Noussair Mazraoui, on as a late replacement for Hakim Ziyech, volleyed against the bar in stoppage time after a clinical break as Morocco closed out a win that should leave them on course to face a third-place finisher for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, France-based Bongani Zungu scored as unimpressive South Africa laboured to a 1-0 in a Group D win over Namibia to keep alive hopes of making the second round.

However, to book a last-16 place the winners will probably need at least a point against leaders Morocco.

Zungu netted on 68 minutes with a header off a corner to settle a match that lacked the quality of the clash between Morocco and the Ivory Coast.

South Africa made four changes to the team that started in a loss to the Ivory Coast four days ago, including the shock demotion of goalkeeper Ronwen Williams, who was outstanding.

He was replaced by Darren Keet and Hlompho Kekana, Zungu and Sibusiso Vilakazi were also promoted with Kamohelo Mokotjo, Lebohang Maboe and injured Dean Furman dropping out.

Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti included Egypt-based Benson Shilongo for Absalom Limbondi in the lone change to the side that unluckily lost to Morocco after conceding a late own-goal.

South Africa had a chance to go ahead on 16 minutes, but Vilakazi blazed over at the Al Salam Stadium in the Egyptian capital after a Themba Zwane backheel gave him a clear sight of goal.

Mannetti must have been pleased when the 21st minute passed as he was part of the side trailing South Africa 4-0 at that point when they last met 21 years ago in Burkina Faso.

Now retired Benni McCarthy scored all four Bafana Bafana (The Boys) goals in the victory and how England-born coach Stuart Baxter must have longed for someone similarly clinical in this match.

Meanwhile, Angola and Mauritania drew 0-0 in Suez Saturday, a result which lessened the chances of either team reaching the last 16 in the Africa Cup of Nations.

It was the first goalless match so far at the African football showpiece in Egypt, and the 35 degree celsius (95 fahrenheit) mid-afternoon heat was a contributing factor.

However, neither side showed much urgency and there were hardly any clear-cut scoring chances.

Agencies