Morocco escape Cape Verde scare
A 78th minute strike by Youssef El Arabi spared Morocco’s blushes at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, salvaging a point against a determined Cape Verde side, who took the lead in the game through Platini, to play out a 1-1 draw in an Africa Cup of Nations clash.
With South Africa having beaten Angola 2-0 in the first of the double-header fixtures, the pressure was on Morocco, the favourites of the night, to take home a win in order to keep their hopes of finish top of Group A alive.
The nerves between the two teams was evident from the starting whistle as each side gave away needless possession cheaply and it was surprisingly Cape Verde who enjoyed the better of play in the opening 20 minutes.
It was a very uncharacteristic Moroccan display in which they were conceding reckless challenges across the park, one which saw Cape Verde line up a 23rd minute free-kick on the edge of the D.
Ryan Mendes stood up to take the set-piece where he struck an impressive one to beat the Moroccan wall before testing Nadir Lamyaghri, who brilliant dove down and made a save at the far post.
The Atlas Lions continued to struggle under the pressure of the Blue Sharks and they forced Lamyaghri into making a double save from Platini and Nivaldo, just after the half hour mark, as their onslaught continued.
Unlike the second half performance against Angola, the shot-stopper couldn’t keep Morocco in the game for long, as their defensive unit was ripped to shreds by the pace of Mendes and Platini, who finally found the back of the net in the 35th minute.
The Blue Sharks picked up possession in the middle of the park which allowed for Mendes to slot a through ball to Platini. The full-back did well to beat the offside trap before unleashing a chipped ball over the onrushing goalkeeper and into the back of the net, handing Cape Verde a deserved lead.
A change was needed for the Atlas Lions and Rachid Taoussi wasted no time in bringing on Youssef El Arabi in order to help support the one-man strike force of Mounir El Hamdaoui at the start of the second half.
Frustrations continued to grow for the North Africans when Younes Belhanda was shown his second yellow of the tournament, ruling him out for the final fixture against South Africa.
A chance presented itself to Morocco in the 67th minute when they were handed a free-kick from a promising angle. Abdelaziz Barrada stood up to take the effort but his shot was skied above the goal frame.
The only way Morocco was going to get a goal was on the counter-attack and they finally managed to work a successful one when Barrada pushed forward on the right hand side of the field.
Arguably their best player on the field, Barrada managed to slice in a great cross from near the byline, which met El Arabi, who made no error in slicing it into the back of the net with 11 minutes to be played.
Like most of the game, there were few attempts at goal for the final minutes of the encounter as the teams played out to a 1-1 draw.