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Atlas Cubs Take Control

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 30th 2023)

Politically Charged Absence

Morocco’s historic run to the semi-final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup quickly had consequences as the Atlas Lions did not come to Algeria to defend their African Nations Championship (CHAN) title. The Algerian government had broken diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Morocco and refused to allow Morocco’s national airline (Royal Air Maroc) permission to fly directly to Constantine as the Moroccan FA had demanded.

The situation was ramped up by Algeria’s invitation to Nelson Mandela’s grandson Chief Mandla Mandela. His politically charged speech calling for support for Western Sahara ruffled Moroccan feathers – it was bound to

The failure to reach a compromise resulted in the local Atlas Lions’ absence from the CHAN robbing Constantine of the presence of the defending champions, but a compromise was reached after intervention from CAF to ensure that Morocco’s youngsters are here – they beat South Africa 2-0 in the second of tonight’s opening matches in Group B.

The Cubs Roar

After a goalless first half Abdelhamid Ait Boudlal opened Morocco’s account after 73 minutes from the penalty spot after his opposite number Benjamin Wallis was penalised for handballing Abdelhamid Maali’s cross from the left wing. Boudlal scored to Kyle Jansen’s right after sending the keeper the wrong way.

Ten minutes later Adam Hanin doubled the Atlas Cubs’ lead. A tame cross from the right produced a horrible misunderstanding between Jansen Stellenbosch’s Tyler Cicero with ball hitting the defender and being deflected into the path of Hanin for an easy goal. It was one of the first touches by the Moroccan substitute.

Mamelodi Sundowns’ forward Siyabonga Mabena had the first effort of the match a poor effort that sailed well over the crossbar. He grew into the match, setting up a presentable opportunity for Vitesse’s Michael Dokunmu, but the Dutch-based striker fluffed his opportunity badly just over half an hour into the match. Mabena pulled the strings for South Africa, but his next shot was similarly well off target. In the second half South Africa’s went close to being gifted an own goal with a sliced attempted clearance by Smail Bakhty, but it went comfortably wide. South Africa’s defensive frailties cost the young Bafana Bafana dear, leaving them bottom of Group B after the first round of matches.

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