AFCON 2019: Morocco edge Ivory Coast to go top of Group D

Morocco quest for a second AFCON titled continued as they edged out Cote D’Ivoire in a top of the table clash in Group D. The 1976 champions beat the Elephants courtesy goal from Leganes striker Youssef En-Nesyri

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In what was a battle between former AFCON winners, Cote D’Ivoire’s started on the attack and they almost took the lead in the opening minutes with Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodijia almost heading in from Serge Aurier cross,  but Romain Saiss was able to head off the line for Morocco.

 

Following Kodijia’s header, it was Morocco’s turn to threaten t Cote D’Ivoire’s goal through former Juventus centre back Mehdi Benatia. The Al-Duhail got on the end of a Ziyech cross but could not keep his header low.  The Atlas Lions continued to dominate possession with Ajax star Hakim Ziyech running the show, but they failed to create any real chance on goal.

The Arsenal target tried his luck from the edge of the box but his shot was a bit too high from a direct free kick. However, Morroco will not wait for too long moments later to break the deadlock.

The 1978 champions took the lead in fine fashion after Nordin Amrabat beat a couple of Ivorian defenders before slotting a perfect through ball to Youssef En-Nesyri who finished perfectly past Sylvain Gbohouo in Ivory Coast goal.

The Elephants tried to get back in the game immediately after Yassine Bounou attempts to beat Kodijia to the ball fell into the path of Nicolas Pepe, but the Lille winger could only find the side netting.  The Ivorians continued to try and find a way past the Morrocan’s defence but could only muster speculative shots from distance.

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Instead, it was the Atlas Lions that almost doubled their lead following a brilliant counter-attack. Hakim Ziyech was set up on the right wing before rolling a perfect ball to Amrabat who left the ball for Youssef En-Nesyri but the Leganes striker shot was saved by Sylvain Gbohouo.

The scare appeared to bring Ivory Coast to life and they almost drew level through  Geoffroy Serey Die.  The Neuchâtel Xamax midfielder fired a shot from about 25 yards out following a poor clearance from Yassine Bounou in Morocco goal, but the Girona shot-stopper redeemed himself with a brilliant fingertip save.

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It proved to be the last action of the half as Herve Renard’s men went into the break with the lead.

The second half started with Morocco having the first chance. Borussia Dortmund’s right back Achraf Hakimi was set up on the right but his right-footed shot was blocked by Ivorian defenders. Ivory Coast manager Ibrahim Kamara tried to switch things up by bringing on Maxwel Cornet for Max-Alain Gradel.

But it failed to have any effect as Morocco continued to dominate possession drawing up fouls from the Ivory Coast players. The Elephants found it difficult to cope with the slick passing of the Moroccans and almost conceded a second through Youssef En-Nesyri but the Leganes effort was ruled out for offside.

The Atlast Lions had penalty shouts after Ziyech was upended in the box but Cameroonian referee Neant Alioum waved off their appeals. Youssef En-Nesyri continued to trouble the Ivorian defence but his glancing header was just inches wide.

Renard’s men continued to enjoy the large share of possession as Ivory Coast failed to muster any real chance. The Atlas Lions were playing the game at a slow pace as Ivory Coast failed to show any resistance. They almost added a second in the last minute but Hakimi’s effort could only hit the crossbar.  However, it will not affect the scoreline as Morocco ran out as deserved winners to go top of Group D.

What Next: Morocco face South Africa in their last group match knowing a point will be enough to secure the top spot while Ivory Coast will hope to bounce back when they take on Namibia.