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AFCON 2021: Morocco vs Egypt a game off the pitch

Morocco's defender Achraf Hakimi celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 round of 16 football match between Morocco and Malawi at Stade Ahmadou-Ahidjo in Yaounde on January 25, 2022.  (Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)
AFCON 2021: Morocco vs Egypt a game off the pitch

Morocco qualified for the quarter-finals after beating the surprising Flames of Malawi (2-1), and will have to defeat Egypt this Sunday to reach the last four of the AFCON 2021.

In Morocco, the qualification to the quarterfinals is already forgotten. Now it's time to face a continental giant, and a regional rival at that. The Atlas Lions' fans are looking forward to Sunday's clash, but some would have preferred to meet the Ivory Coast, one of Morocco's favorite victims in recent years. A tour of various busy spots in the economic capital shows just how good a win against a major regional rival like Egypt would be for the Atlas Lions' fans. Morocco has not reached the semi-finals of an African Cup of Nations since 2004, when it lost the final to Tunisia (1-2). The objective remains at least to be among the four best teams in the competition while waiting for the other continental events.

"Egypt is still Egypt''
"We certainly have a very good team, which scores goals. But Egypt is still Egypt. Personally, as a Moroccan, I see rather an Egyptian victory for Sunday's match. I hope I'm wrong though," says Anas (not his real name) who runs a jersey shop in Casablanca's famous "Qorea" market. For this fan, Egypt wins "when the games really count and remains a team that takes few goals". The Pharaohs have so far conceded only one goal in their group stage loss to Nigeria.)

For a taxi driver who is following the competition closely, Morocco has a good team that has distinguished itself especially offensively, unlike Egypt, which defends well. "If we create chances like in the other games, I have good hopes for a Moroccan victory. But football is often unpredictable, especially in this AFCON," he said.

"Boufal, the Neymar of the AFCON''
In this large Casablanca market, the shirts of the teams of this AFCON are well exposed. Some, like Hakimi's, seem to be popular with the public. A group of young fans met in front of a restaurant near the market discuss Morocco's chances against the Pharaohs. For them, two players can make the difference in this long awaited clash: Achraf Hakimi and Sofiane Boufal.

"Boufal is our best player since the beginning of the competition. I can say that he is the Neymar of this AFCON," says one of them in an amused tone, while his compatriot is betting on a new exploit of Hakimi. "This year we have a good team and I think it can still show more. But it's never easy to win against Egypt," said one of the youngsters.

 

More fatalistic, one of the shopkeepers who manages a sporting goods shop does not really want to make any predictions. "I think that the team that will win this quarter-final will do it with a small score (1-0 or 2-1). I will say 1-0 for Morocco insha'Allah (please God, in Arabic).

A whiff of revenge
If the fear is present among some fans, Morocco can well look Egypt in the eye. It is true that the Atlas Lions' last victory dates back 20 years, but the record of direct confrontations is largely in their favor. In 26 matches, Morocco has won 12 times, drawn 11 times and lost only three times against the Pharaohs.

Among fans, the word "revenge" often comes up in discussions before Sunday's game. After all, the elimination of 2017 in the 87th minute is difficult to digest as well as the victory of Carlos Queiroz's Iran in the 2018 World Cup on an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz late in the game. The Moroccans will want to see a team with revenge after being narrowly beaten in the last encounter. To achieve this, they will have to rely on their attacking qualities.

Against Malawi, Morocco took 22 shots on goal and scored twice. They currently have more than 60 shots in four matches. The Atlas Lions have often lacked efficiency, as coach Vahid Halilhodzic lamented. Against Egypt, the Atlas Lions will have to be much more precise to reach the last four.

 

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