AFCON 2023: South Africa defeat Morocco as Hakimi misses penalty

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In a surprise turn of events, South Africa stunned 10-man Morocco, and Achraf Hakimi squandered a late opportunity to level the score from the penalty spot. This result sets up a quarter-final clash for South Africa against Cape Verde at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

In the 57th minute, Evidence Makgopa skillfully netted the opening goal, surviving an extensive Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review for potential offside and propelling Bafana Bafana towards an unexpected triumph over the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists.

Achraf Hakimi had a prime opportunity to equalize after Mothobi Mvala was penalized for handballing Ayoub El Kaabi’s shot. However, Hakimi’s 85th-minute penalty struck the crossbar.

In stoppage time, Manchester United midfielder Sofyan Amrabat received a red card, and Teboho Mokoena sealed the upset with an elegant free-kick past Bono.

The 1996 champions now aim to surpass their quarter-final exit in the 2019 finals as they face the undefeated Blue Sharks on Saturday (20:00 GMT) for a spot in the last four.

Despite being Africa’s top-ranked team, Morocco will have to wait until hosting the 2025 edition of Afcon to pursue their second continental title, a quest stretching back to 1976.

Atlas Lions left to rue wastefulness

Injuries left Morocco without forwards Hakim Ziyech, who secured victory against Zambia, and Sofiane Boufal. Watching from the sidelines, these absent players must have questioned how the North Africans missed numerous opportunities against a team ranked 53 places below them.

Amine Adli and Selim Amallah squandered excellent chances in the box during the first half, showcasing Morocco’s lack of accuracy. South Africa’s center-back, Mvala, intervened twice in the early stages to block powerful shots from Hakimi and Adli.

Despite facing a series of dangerous deliveries in the opening 15 minutes, the underdogs posed their first threat when Bono swiftly deflected Mokoena’s awkward long-range strike behind.

This attempt stood as the only shot on target in the first half. However, shortly after the restart, Morocco had a golden opportunity to take the lead. Azzedine Ounahi won possession just inside South Africa’s territory, surged into the penalty area, and lofted the ball over the crossbar after a swift one-two with Youssef En-Nesyri.

Makgopa swiftly capitalized on Morocco’s wastefulness, skillfully controlling Themba Zwane’s first-time pass to set himself up inside the penalty area. From a tight angle, he calmly slotted the ball beyond Bono, marking his first international goal in over two years.

Although the forward from the South African top-flight club Orlando Pirates seemed to be in a potentially offside position, Ismail allowed play to continue after another prompt VAR check.

With another potential upset looming in the AFCON, Morocco almost responded swiftly, as a powerful shot from Abde Ezzalzouli was met with a solid save from Ronwen Williams. Ounahi’s attempt on the rebound was hastily cleared.

Morocco’s manager, Walid Regragui, promptly made changes by bringing on Ismael Saibari and Amine Harit for Amallah and Adli. However, his team struggled to disrupt the compact and resolute defense of their determined opponents.

A lifeline seemed to appear for the Atlas Lions when El Kaabi’s shot struck Mvala’s arm, resulting in a penalty after a pitchside monitor check by Ismail. Yet, Hakimi’s effort rattled against the top of the bar and sailed over.

In a frantic conclusion, Amrabat was deemed the last defender when he fouled Mokoena inside the box, receiving a straight red card instead of a second yellow after a VAR review. Mokoena then sealed the contest by elegantly curling in South Africa’s second goal, adding to their memorable campaign under Hugo Broos, which has already included their largest-ever AFCON win.

Their journey to a potential semi-final against Nigeria or Angola is expected to test their defensive mettle once again, as they face a Cape Verde team that scored seven goals in the group stage before securing a 1-0 victory against Mauritania in their last-16 match on Monday.