Morocco’s Atlas Lions switch off Malawi Flames to qualify for quarters

Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco celebrates goal during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Last 16 match between Morocco and Malawi at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde

The Atlas Lions of Morocco have secured a place in the quarter final stage at the on-going TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations 2021 in Cameroon.

Morocco came from a goal down to defeat Malawi 2-1 in a match played at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s Atlas Lions started on a high, but it was Gabadinho Mhango who struck early for the Malawi Flames after only seven minutes.

Gabadinho Mhango of Malawi celebrates goal with teammates during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Last 16 match between Morocco and Malawi

Mhango made no mistake from outside the box when he curled in a shot that beat Morocco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to the top corner.

But the early goal was a wake-up call for the Moroccon team as they responded and attacked in numbers to try and level matters. Imran Louza and Yousesef En-Nesyri all had their shots blocked by the Malawian goalkeeper Charles Thom who kept ghis team in the game.

But with two minutes of added time to the break En-Nesyri made it 1-1 when he nodded in a well taken Sofiane Boufal corner kick.

The Malawi Flames cushioned a lot of pressure as the Atlas Lions dominated most of the play in the first half with seven shots on target against Malawi’s one.

Morocco captain Ghanem Saiss tackles Gabadinho Hellings Mhango of Malawi during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Last 16 match between Morocco and Malawi held at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde

In the second half the Malawi team tried to regroup and made early attempts through Gerald and Phiri Gomezgani Chirwa, but their attempts missed the target.

After a lot of pressure on the Malawian defending line, Morocco scored to make it 2-1 after 70 minutes. Defender Achraf Hakimi beautifully curled in a free kick that beat the Flames’ goalkeeper Charles Thom. The Atlas Lions did not stop pushing forward as they continued creating more scoring opportunities.

It was all celebrations by the Moroccan team after the final whistle as they booked a place in the quarter final. Morocco will wait to face the winner between Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt in the quarter final.

At the 2019 AFCON held in Egypt, the Atlas Lions were ejected in the round of 16 by Benin in penalty shoot-outs after a 1-1 draw. Morocco have also lifted the AFCON trophy once in 1976.

Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco celebrates goal with teammates during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Last 16 match between Morocco and Malawi at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde

What they said

Ashraf Hakimi (Man of the match)

"We are all to be congratulated. This victory reflects the great teamwork shown by all of us. We will continue to work towards our goal. Today I also had the privilege of scoring a free-kick, I don't know which goal was the best. I will stop and watch to evaluate. This one was more difficult because of the angle. Right now, I'm focusing on my team and the next phase. I have been practicing this kind of situations and I am happy when goals come in games”.

Vahid Halilhodzic (Coach, Morocco)

"It was not an easy game. When we conceded the goal, it made my team react and it was very complex. In the second half we didn't lose concentration and managed to organize ourselves and take control of the game. We will remain committed and look to win the next games. We had plenty of chances and hesitated a lot. I hope that in the next game we will be more effective. I hope that the players who are injured recover and join the squad soon. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, we are aware that we are not at the level we want. I believe that with more games like these we can gain more confidence".

Marian Marinica (Coach, Malawi)

"We worked and were very close. Personally, I tried to exploit the opportunities I had. We played against a very good team. However, I am proud of the performance of my players. Gabadinho is a good player and, as you saw, each player gave his best. I believe Gaba has the potential to play at the highest level. Our game plan happened as we wanted, but I have to admit that we played against a fantastic opponent".