Saturday: Morocco 4 Mauritania 0 | Sunday: Uganda vs Zambia
Rabat, Morocco | AFP | Hosts and title favourites Morocco ran riot in the second half to defeat neighbours Mauritania 4-0 Saturday in the opening match of the 2018 African Nations Championship.
Ayoub el Kaabi broke brave resistance from the Mauritanians on 66 minutes and Ismail el Haddad added a second goal six minutes later at Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca.
El Kaabi bagged a brace 10 minutes from time before being substituted as Morocco made an impressive start in Group A, where Guinea tackle Sudan Sunday at the same venue.
Morocco started with three of 2017 CAF Champions League-winning Wydad Casablanca team, but only brought on star attackers Achraf Bencharki and Walid el Karti in the closing stages.
Bencharki completed the rout with a stoppage-time goal as Morocco came within one goal of matching the record winning margin at the tournament set by Tunisia two years ago.
Victory for the hosts brought a cheerful end to a sad day for Moroccan football with former star Hamid Hazzaz dying of a heart attack aged 72 just hours before the tournament began.
Known as “The Spider”, Hazzaz was part of the Morocco 1970 World Cup squad and the team that won the Africa Cup of Nations for the only time six years later.
A colourful opening ceremony preceded the first match and 14-year-old crown prince Moulay el Hassan got the tournament under way with a symbolic kick-off.
The young royal also shook hands with each player and the match officials and posed for team pictures with the Moroccans and Mauritanians.
Staged every two years, the Nations Championship is restricted to home-based footballers and the Democratic Republic of Congo (twice), Tunisia and Libya won previous editions.
In other Sunday fixtures, the Ivory Coast play debutants Namibia and Zambia face Uganda in Group B in Marrakech.
Group winners and runners-up advance to the quarter-finals and the eventual champions pocket $1.25 million (about 1.050 million euro).
Head coach Sebastien Desabre led his players to Stade de Marrakech for the official training on Friday night under floodlights, reports FUFA.CO.UG.
The magnificent stadium with a capacity of 45,240 fans will be host to all the Uganda Cranes three matches in Group B.
All the 23 players were involved in the session monitored by the entire technical team.
“We are ready for the tournament. The attitude showed during training is what we need on Sunday. Let’s not relax. We have an important match to start with and we must get good results” Sebastien told his players after the training session.
Later in a press briefing, Desabre was confident. “I have been with the team for the last ten days following my appointment. I opted to sign because Uganda has so much potential and I want to work to imporove the level of the national team.”
“The first game in every competition is always the most important, ” said, adding that “Zambia is a good side and we are ready to face them. It is 50-50 for either side. Our target is to win the first game.”
“Uganda has failed to go past the group stage in the three previous editions (2011, 2014, 2016) and our first objective is to do better by reaching the knockout stage. The second objective is to evaluate the players for the upcoming qualifiers of the Africa Cup of Nations in March.”
Morocco 4 (El Kaabi 66, 80, El Haddad 72, Bencharki 90+2) Mauritania 0
Morocco: Zniti; Aguerd, Jbira, Nahiri, Benoun (capt); Hadraf (Bencharki 75), Saidi, Barrahma; El Haddad, Hafidi, El Kaabi (El Karti 83)
Coach: Sellami (MAR)
Mauritania: Brahim; El Hacen, Wade, Bilal, Mangane; Moussa (Tanjy 77), El Id (Diop 73), Baghayoko (capt), Gaye; Khalil, El Voullany (Traore 62)
Coach: Martins (FRA)
Mauritania: El Hacen (27 minutes), Gaye (35), Baghayoko (68)
Referee: Sikazwe (ZAM)
Standings (played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points)
Morocco 1 1 0 0 4 0 3
Guinea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sudan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mauritania 1 0 0 1 0 4 0
Fixtures (times GMT)
(Casablanca unless noted)
Guinea v Sudan (1430)
Morocco v Guinea (1630), Mauritania v Sudan (1930)
Morocco v Sudan (1900)
Guinea v Mauritania (1900)
Note: group winners and runners-up qualify for quarter-finals