For Morocco, the road to the Men’s Football event of the Paris 2024 Olympics is being well paved.
They surmounted a major opposition poised by Guinea on Saturday night, coming from a goal down to win 2-1 as the AFCON U23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 got underway.
The AFCON U23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 is the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games.
Skipper Abdessamad Ezzalzouli converted two second-half penalties to hand the home side a perfect start at the sumptuous Prince Moulay Abdellah Sports Complex in Rabat.
In what promised to be an enthralling contest, debutants Guinea started the game on a strong note, displaying dominance and control over the proceedings.
The Guinean side demonstrated their attacking prowess early on, with midfielder Seydoumba Cisse unleashing a powerful shot that was expertly saved by Moroccan goalkeeper Alaa Bellaarouch in the 10th minute.
However, Morocco’s skipper Abdessamad Ezzalzouli came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock midway through the first half, narrowly missing the target with his attempt.
With the clock ticking down and just two minutes remaining in the first half, it was Guinea who drew first blood. Algassime Bah capitalized on a free-kick opportunity from outside the box, striking the ball with precision and finding the back of the net despite Bellaarouch’s valiant effort to keep it out.
Undeterred by the setback, the Moroccan team emerged from the halftime break with renewed determination and purpose. Just three minutes into the second half, Guinea’s Naby Youssouf Oulare made a promising run into the Moroccan box, only to be thwarted by the swift intervention of defender Oussama Targhalline, who cleared the danger for Morocco.
As the second half progressed, Morocco continued to assert their dominance, creating several scoring opportunities. Guinea’s goalkeeper Mory Keita showcased his skills by denying Ibrahim Salah’s powerful strike from outside the box in the 61st minute.
However, Morocco’s relentless pressure eventually paid off in the 67th minute when Ezzalzouli was brought down inside the box, resulting in a penalty. The composed captain stepped up and coolly converted the spot-kick, sending the Guinean goalkeeper the wrong way and equalizing for his team.
With the momentum firmly in their favour, the Moroccan side persistently attacked, while Guinea attempted to hold their ground defensively.
In the dying moments of the match, after extensive consultation with the VAR team, Guinea conceded another penalty in the fifth minute of added time. Ezzalzouli once again displayed nerves of steel as he confidently dispatched the penalty, securing a 2-1 lead for his team.
In a dramatic turn of events, Guinea’s Naby Youssouf Oulare momentarily believed he had salvaged a draw for his team in the final moments of the match. However, the goal was ultimately disallowed after consultation with the VAR team.
The U23 AFCON action continues on Sunday as Ghana takes on Congo Brazzaville in a Group A clash, while defending champions Egypt lock horns with Niger. Additionally, in Group B matches held in Tangier, Mali squares off against Gabon in what promises to be an exhilarating encounter.
As the U23 AFCON tournament unfolds, the captivating performances and fierce competition serve as a testament to the immense talent on display and the bright future of African football.