Morocco appears like the most effective group on the Africa Cup of Nations because it cruises previous Ivory Coast

eight:47 PM ET

Nick AmesESPN.com author

Morocco solely scored as soon as however they by no means seemed at risk of slipping up towards Ivory Coast on Friday evening. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Pictures

CAIRO, Egypt — Morocco have a maintain over the Ivory Coast relating to the Africa Cup of Nations, and on Friday they strengthened it in magnificent circumstances. Neglect the scoreline, confirmed by a marvellously labored first-half winner from Youssef En-Nesyri; this was as exhilarating a 1-Zero win as you will notice in a match between fierce rivals and groups hoping to win the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Certainly, if Herve Renard’s facet preserve this stage of efficiency, they are going to stand a advantageous probability of lifting their first title since 1976.

The sight of Renard, Ivory Coast’s supervisor between 2014-15, should breed despair in his former employers. With Morocco, he knocked them out of each the 2017 Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers; this group stage victory in Cairo, though of much less rapid consequence, felt like a contemporary assertion that at their greatest, the Atlas Lions are in a special class.

“Because of those that hit us on a regular basis: you give us motivation,” Renard stated afterwards.

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Morocco had toiled to a late win over Namibia of their first group recreation, however the one attainable criticism Friday evening was that they didn’t rating extra. En-Nesyri’s 23rd-minute objective was crafted superbly by a reverse move from Nordin Amrabat, who had an distinctive recreation, and the spectacular younger Leganes striker had probabilities to attain three extra. The perfect, created by a beautiful dummy from Amrabat shortly earlier than half-time, was stored out by the overworked Sylvain Gbohouo. With a sharper innovative, Morocco might have run away with it, but when they preserve creating alternatives at this charge, it may not matter.

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Morocco performed some sweeping, luxurious soccer on an immaculate pitch — a welcome function of this event — and would have added icing to the cake if Noussair Mazraoui, on in its place, had not blasted towards the bar from point-blank vary shortly earlier than the top. Hakim Ziyech, Mazraoui’s Ajax teammate and Morocco’s star attraction, didn’t hearth on all cylinders right here, his execution barely awry all through, however he and his attacking cohort continually occupied areas their opponents merely couldn’t smother.

There is no such thing as a higher footballing group on this event than Morocco and that is still true by a ways. They had been defensively strong too after a rocky begin wherein the Ivory Coast, quick from the opening kickoff, might have scored inside a minute. It took a superb clearing header from Romain Saiss, who performs his membership soccer for Wolves, to forestall Jonathan Kodjia’s effort from bouncing in. The energetic Nicolas Pepe, a significant switch goal linked to the Premier League this summer time, got here shut straight after the decisive objective. Substitutes Wilfried Bony and Maxwel Cornet triggered chaos late on however this match shall be memorable purely for the whirlwind of attacking intent from Renard’s group.

“I congratulate my gamers,” Renard stated. “It is a group that exhibits nice qualities.” They’re now assured a spot within the spherical of 16 though Renard stated it was “important” that they secured some extent or extra towards South Africa on Monday to win Group D. Sturdy as his facet are, he’d quite face one of many third-placed sides than Mali, who would in all probability lie in wait in the event that they slipped up. Present kind means that it should not matter a lot.

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In the meantime, Ivory Coast cannot afford to be as carefree about their remaining recreation. Their menace pale as the sport dragged on and after going behind, their assault turned more and more disjointed. There was no place for Wilfried Zaha, who had appeared in its place towards South Africa however remained on the bench right here. Zaha left the stadium wanting indignant after their first recreation; you questioned how he would really feel this time, provided that Ibrahim Kamara’s blunt assault apparently had no place for one of the vital sought-after gamers in English soccer.

Kamara clarified afterwards that he was about to carry on Zaha earlier than Serge Aurier, his right-back, pulled up with a late harm. But Cornet and the creaking Bony had already been most well-liked forward of him. Namibia, who appear the very best opponents to assist the Elephants escape their rut, would possibly but discover an indignant Zaha inflicted upon them from the beginning. On this proof Ivory Coast want one thing additional in the event that they’re to contend.

“I hope to go to the top of the event,” stated Renard, who’s on the lookout for a 3rd AFCON title of his personal. “I feel we’ve to take care of the gamers’ psychological state. I can’t inform the longer term. The Cup of Nations may be very sturdy and we hope to go far.”

On this proof it’s laborious to consider Morocco will not.

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