FT: Morocco 4 Nigeria 0
Casablanca, Morocco | AFP | Ayoub el Kaabi scored his ninth goal of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) as Morocco became the first hosts to triumph by thrashing 10-man Nigeria 4-0 Sunday in a Casablanca downpour.
With Nigeria in disarray and the match long over as a contest, the previously little known striker completed his record-extending goal haul by firing into the net from close range.
Zakaria Hadraf put the home team ahead at Stade Mohammed V on the stroke of half-time and added the match-clinching third goal midway through the second half.
In between the first goals of the tournament for Hadraf, fellow midfielder Mohamed el Karti netted soon after Nigerian attacker Eneji Moses was red-carded following a second caution.
It was a record winning margin for a CHAN final, bettering the three-goal victories of Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Morocco pocketed a record $1.25 million (about one million euros) having justified their pre-tournament role as favourites to win the fifth edition of the CHAN.
Sudan performed best of the four previous host nations, finishing third. Rwanda made the quarter-finals and the Ivory Coast and South Africa exited after the first round.
Morocco also became the first champions to win five of six matches — defeating Mauritania, Guinea, Namibia and Libya before overwhelming Nigeria.
The only blemish was partly self inflicted as they fielded a virtual reserve side in a goalless draw with Sudan after both nations had secured last-eight places.
El Kaabi had a goal disallowed and struck the woodwork before Hadraf sidefooted a cut-back between the legs of goalkeeper Oladele Ajiboye for a 45th-minute lead.
After Moses had been sent off, Morocco took control and Nigeria fell apart with some comical defending contributing to their downfall.
El Karti made it 2-0 just past the hour, Hadraf completed his brace three minutes later and player-of-the-tournament El Kaabi completed the rout with 73 minutes gone.
Morocco’s El Kaabi wants to crown goal rush with CHAN title
Casablanca, Morocco | AFP | Ayoub el Kaabi hopes to complete a meteoric rise from lower league to international football by helping hosts Morocco defeat Nigeria Sunday in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) final.
Few outside the north African kingdom had heard of the 24-year-old striker before the mid January kick-off of the biennial tournament restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth.
Now, most African football followers from Cairo to Cape Town know El Kaabi, the 1.82-metre goalmouth predator who has scored a record eight goals in a single edition of the CHAN.
Despite starting only two of three group games, the Moroccan equalled the five-goal benchmark set by Zambian Given Singuluma in the Ivory Coast nine years ago.
He then raised the bar by opening the scoring in a quarter-final victory over Namibia and bagged a brace as Morocco overcame Libya after extra time to reach the final.
His amazing haul came just a year after he scoring 25 goals in 33 matches as Racing Casablanca won promotion to the first division.
Those scoring exploits caught the attention of top-flight outfit Renaissance Berkane, who signed El Kaabi and have been rewarded by 11 goals from him in 17 matches.
Before the fifth CHAN began, most of the talk around the Moroccan attack centred on Achraf Bencharki, the leading scorer for 2017 CAF Champions League winners Wydad Casablanca.
But Saudi Arabia-bound Bencharki, who joins Al Hilal after the CHAN, has been continually overshadowed by El Kaabi.
“Ayoub is the complete striker, a fantastic footballer,” Bencharki told AFP. “With him in the team, defeating Nigeria and winning the CHAN is a realistic goal.”
Midfielder Walid el Karti weighed in: “El Kaabi is such a humble footballer and a great team person. He remains grounded after individual feats, like his hat-trick against Guinea.”
Morocco and Nigeria met in a 2014 CHAN quarter-final with the west Africans overturning a three-goal half-time deficit to triumph 4-3 after extra time in South Africa.
Nigerian Rabiu Ali, at 37 the second oldest 2018 CHAN footballer, scored during that remarkable comeback and is a likely starter against Morocco at the Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca.
His team-mates Anthony Okpotu and Gabriel Okechukwu could trouble the hosts with their huge physiques, pace and directness, which have already having yielded two goals each.
Both finalists qualified with four victories and a draw and Nigeria appear capable of at least running Morocco close in a competition that has produced largely one-sided finals.
The Democratic Republic of Congo won the 2009 and 2016 title deciders by margins of two and three goals, and Tunisia triumphed by three goals in 2011.
Libya, the 2014 champions, were the exception, edging Ghana on penalties after a goalless final.