Defending champions Ivory Coast bowed out of the Africa Cup of Nations as they were beaten 1-0 by Morocco, who advanced to the last eight of the competition thanks to Rachid Alioui’s superb second-half winner.
By Carlo Chikomba
Moroccan forward Alioui’s sublime second half strike proved to be the difference as the Elephants were condemned to an early group stage exit for the first time since 2002.
Ironically, it was their former coach Herve Renard having led the Ivorians to their triumph two years ago who was now on the opposite end, in charge of Morocco, plotting their demise.
Needing a win to advance to the knockout stages, the defending champions created decent chances for Wilfried Zaha and Salomon Kalou, but they could not find a way through a well organised Morocco backline led by Bayern Munich’s on-loan Juventus defender Medhi Benatia.
The Moroccans went close in the first half when Faycal Fajr rattled the crossbar with a delightful set piece following Cheick Doukoure’s foul on Bouhaddouz with goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo well beaten.
However, the Elephants’ first real chance at goal came in the 37th minute when Zaha’s effort from the left-hand side of the box was parried away by Munir, having been put through by Kalou.
The veteran forward himself went close shortly before the break, but his header could only find the outside of the post from a tight angle.
With DR Congo defeating Togo 3-1 elsewhere, the Atlas Lions knew a draw would be enough to see them through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2004, when they finished runners-up.
But that did not stop Renard’s side from going for the win as they kept probing the Elephants backline and were duly rewarded midway through the second period when Alioui picked up a pass from Youssef En-Nesyri and curled home a marvellous winner from distance.
Hamza Mendyl wasted a chance to wrap it up for Morocco when he fired into the side-netting with 10 minutes remaining, but Renard’s men held on for a memorable win and booked a spot in the knockout stages of the competition.