South Africa Shocks Morocco to Secure AFCON Quarterfinal Spot

Achraf Hakimi’s crucial penalty miss proved costly as Morocco, a team widely considered a favorite, succumbed to South Africa in a stunning 2-0 upset during the Africa Cup of Nations last 16 match.

Evidence Makgopa scored for South Africa, taking the lead just before the hour mark in San-Pedro, a city on the Ivorian coast. However, Morocco had an opportunity to equalize five minutes before the end of the match with a penalty.

Hakimi, the star player from Paris Saint-Germain, missed the penalty opportunity, sending the ball off the top of the crossbar and over, leaving Morocco’s hopes shattered. The situation worsened for Morocco as Sofyan Amrabat was red-carded in stoppage time, and Teboho Mokoena scored South Africa’s second goal from the resulting free-kick.

Bafana Bafana will proceed to the quarter-finals on Saturday in Yamoussoukro, facing the underdog Cape Verde, who have been one of the tournament’s pleasant surprises so far.

Morocco, a team that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2022, joins the growing list of Africa’s top teams knocked out of the Cup of Nations. This comes just a day after the champions, Senegal, were eliminated in a penalty shootout by the host nation, Ivory Coast.

Africa’s highest-ranked team had hoped to build on their impressive performance at the last World Cup in Qatar, where they reached the semi-finals, by clinching their second AFCON title, almost five decades after their maiden win.

However, they share the same fate as Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, all of whom were ousted. This means that none of the top five African teams, nor any of the four semi-finalists from the previous edition, will progress to the quarter-finals.

The South African team, which included eight players from the country’s premier club, Mamelodi Sundowns, scored in the 57th minute. Themba Zwane set up Orlando Pirates striker Makgopa, who found the net past Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

However, a depleted Morocco squad, missing the talents of injured players Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal, had a golden opportunity to level the score late in the game.

Their appeal for a penalty was vehement when Ayoub El Kaabi’s close-range shot collided with the arm of South African defender Mothobi Mvala. Initially, the Sudanese referee let play continue but later called for a review and awarded the penalty.

Hakimi, the recent runner-up for the African Footballer of the Year award, stepped up to take the penalty but failed to convert.

In the dying minutes of the game, Morocco was reduced to 10 men when Amrabat of Manchester United was sent off for a last-man challenge on Mokoena as he charged towards the penalty box. Initially, Amrabat received a second yellow card, which was upgraded to a straight red after a review.

Mokoena, who had a standout performance and was part of the Sundowns contingent, then capitalized on the situation by converting the resulting free-kick, sealing Morocco’s fate.

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