Youssef En-Nesyri and Achraf Hakimi led Morocco’s spirited comeback to inspire their side to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals following a 2-1 victory over Malawi in Tuesday’s Round of 16 clash at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium.
Frank Mhango’s seventh-minute goal for Malawi’s magnificent attack counted little as En-Nesyri cancelled it in the first-half stoppage time before Hakimi struck the winner with 20 minutes to go.
It was an evening of fantastic goals, starting with Orlando Pirates star Mhango.
Malawi went in front seven minutes into the contest courtesy of Mhango’s sensational strike
after being set up by John Banda before unleashing a long-range wonder.
It was the Pirates man’s third goal of the tournament, following a brace against Zimbabwe in the group phase.
But Mhango’s goal triggered Morocco’s relentless response and Hakimi then forced Malawi goalkeeper Charles Thomu to spill a harmless-looking cross four minutes later, only to be saved by Dennis Chembezi’s clearance as the opponents’ forwards waited to pounce.
It was the start of Thomu’s busy evening and, shortly after, he was invited to impressively save Watford midfielder Imran Louza’s shot, before En-Nesyri’s turn-and-shot sailed narrowly wide.
Amid all the pressure, Malawi managed to launch an attack, with Mhango breaking loose on 22 minutes, but he missed the target from an acute angle.
Thomu was to be invited again to make a fine save, but this time, saving Hakimi’s free-kick.
Danger continued to lurk for the Flames who had to thank the crossbar for denying a Romain Saiss free-kick in the 33rd minute.
Malawi then survived another attack and the woodwork saved them again with six minutes to the break, before Sofiane Boufal had an effort repulsed by Thomu.
Angers attacker Boufal was back on 42 minutes but blasted his effort over the bar from close range.
The Atlas Lions’ persistence finally paid off when En-Nesyri beat Thomu with a close-range header after jumping the highest.
But Morocco came back from half-time having slowed down their tempo but still enjoyed better possession.
Morocco went ahead thanks to Hakimi’s free-kick which went through the top corner and gave Thomu no chance. It was the Paris Saint-Germain full-back’s second straight free-kick conversion in this tournament after another well-taken strike in their last match against Gabon.
En-Nesyri then missed the target by a whisker on 77 minutes after being set up by Mmaee in what was a good opportunity to push his side further ahead.
The Atlas Lions will now face Wednesday’s winner between Egypt and Ivory Coast, while Malawi should be going home with their heads held high after reaching the Afcon knockout phase for the first time ever.