Morocco finally broke the Bafana resistance to grab victory in the Afcon opening
Morocco knocked and knocked and eventually charged through Bafana Bafana’s defenses on Thursday, coming from behind and winning 2-1 in the Group K Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Rabat.
Hugo Broos’ side took an early lead with Lyle Foster, but then Morocco showed their superiority, often mowing down an inexperienced South African side with ease.
Bafana captain Ronwen Williams was heroic, making several brilliant saves, but could do nothing to stop Youssef En-Nesyri’s shot five minutes into the second half.
And substitute Ayoub El Kaabi had the final say, shooting home with minutes on the clock to give the Atlas Lions victory.
Broos was not afraid to throw inexperienced players back in the battle as coach of Bafana, and the Belgian made his Rabat debut at Grant Kekana, Taariq Fielies and Sphelo Sithole.
Fielies and Kekana were part of a new-look central defensive trio with Thibang Phete, with Lyle Lakay of Mamelodi Sundowns and Khuliso Mudau as full backs.
Sithole teamed up with Orlando Pirates’ Goodman Mosele in the center of midfield, and was the first to jump into the limelight in the eighth minute, sending a sublime ball into Foster’s trajectory, who grazed Ashraf Hakimi and punched in a superb low shot.
After that, it was basically a case of Williams against Morocco, the Bafana goalkeeper making a series of saves to keep South Africa ahead.
Sevilla striker En-Nesyri’s header was brilliantly stopped by the Bafana captain on his near post in 15th minute and soon after, he made an even better save than the same player.
Hakimi was finding oceans of space in the lower right, and sizzled in a cross that just escaped En-Nesyri’s boot.
Williams flipped a shot from midfielder Ilias Chair around his post, before another Hakimi cross was somehow driven off the net by Phete.
In the closing seconds of the first half, Hakimi himself had a chance to score, and he dunked in a shot that seemed destined for the far corner of the net but Williams once again made a superb save.
The siege continued into the second half and Morocco had a handball scream against Fielies rejected by the referee, before the Atlas Lions finally tied.
Soufiane Amrabat, who was imperious in midfield for much of the match, sent a cross to the far post which was nodded on goal by Morocco captain Roman Saiss, and this time En-Nesyri made a close-range header. .
Broos’ first changes came on the hour, with Yusuf Maart and Phathusedzo Nange on the way for Thembinkosi Lorch and Foster.
And the pair brought some new energy to the Bafana team, especially Maart who has won some nice challenges.
However, Morocco continued to build up the pressure and Williams produced another great save to avoid a header from substitute Faical Fajr with around 15 minutes remaining.
Bafana broke almost immediately and Percy Tau did well to set Maart, but he burned well. Tau then also had a chance on the break, but like Maart, he was unable to keep his shot on goal.
But it is El Kaabi who has the final say, shooting home brilliantly from Amine Harit’s cross.