Morocco through to last-16 with an ice cream-smooth win over Ivory Coast

Morocco's players celebrate their opening goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group D football match between Morocco and Ivory Coast at the Al Salam Stadium in the Egyptian capital Cairo on June 28, 2019.
Morocco's players celebrate their opening goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group D football match between Morocco and Ivory Coast at the Al Salam Stadium in the Egyptian capital Cairo on June 28, 2019.
Image: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Morocco qualified for the last-16 from Group D of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with an ice cream-smooth 1-0 win against Ivory Coast at Cairo's Al Salam Stadium on Friday night.

Youssef En-Nesyri provided the sharp end for the Atlas Lions, the big centre-forward based at Spain's Leganes showing superior technical ability to position himself on the end of a string of deliveries, including one where he buried the 23rd-minute decisive goal.

The result took the North Africans, World Cup qualifiers in 2018, to six points. Ivory Coast remain on three.

Can Hervé Renard win a third Cup of Nations? The answer, after last night is, and probably always should have been, yes. Of course. Click of tongue.

It was only one win. But it was what was on view in that victory that made the difference.

Freed from the heat and cobwebs against Namibia, Morocco were formidable. They have their excellent structure, to which Renard has added an explosive attack.

Moroccan precision carried out at a pace like a rave bunny on speed.

Renard had his influential playmaker, Younes Belhanda of Galatasaray, back from the injury that kept him out of Morocco's last-gasp 1-0 opening win against Namibia.

That game, like Cote d'Ivoire's 1-0 win against Bafana Bafana, was played in the oppressively uncomfortable heat of a 4.30pm kickoff.

On Friday night, kicking off at 7pm, this delicious, classy clash of West and North African heavyweights could be played at an at times breathtaking rhythm and tempo.

Cote d'Ivoire showed their own power in the opening minute, Nicolas Pepe crossing, Jonathan Kodjia heading hard into the ground, to be cleared off the head of Ghanem Saiss.

Then Morocco came alive. En-Nesyri swept right-back Nabil Dirar's cross into the side-netting.

A fine jinking run by Saudi-based right wing Nouredine Amrabat ended with En-Nesyri slipped through the middle, who showed a soft touch to stroke past Sylvain Gbohouo for Morocco's lead.

Morocco were mechanically imposing closing the game in the second half, where, from Dirar's low cross, En Nesyri got the flick for another good stop from Gbohouo.

Ismael Traore's bicycle kick forced Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou's only real save, and substitute Noussair Mazraoui struck the post, as the match ended in the manner in which it had been played.

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