Azzedine Ounahi scored twice as Morocco dispatched the Democratic Republic of Congo 4-1 in Casablanca on Tuesday evening to win the playoff tie 5-2 and book their ticket for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Qualification means the Atlas Lions will appear at their sixth World Cup in November, while the DRC miss out on their first appearance at the global showpiece since 1974.
Goals from Ounahi and Tarik Tissoudali – who had netted the equaliser in the first leg – gave Morocco control of the tie in front of their own fans.
Ounahi, who only made his Morocco debut during the Africa Cup of Nations, added another nine minutes into the second half to leave the visiting Congolese requiring three goals to advance, before Achraf Hakimi rounded off the victory 21 minutes from time.
There was time for Leopards forward Ben Malango to pull one back for the Central Africans in the 77th minute, but Hector Cuper’s side had left themselves with far too much to do to stage an unlikely comeback.
The victory was an outstanding display for an Atlas Lions side who won all six of their group stage matches during the qualifying campaign, but who have found themselves under pressure in recent months following an underwhelming showing at the Nations Cup and the public feud between head coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech.
The latter’s absence has left Morocco short of creativity in recent fixtures, but there were no such concerns here, as they ruthlessly saw off a Congo side who didn’t qualify for the Nations Cup which was held earlier this year.
Ounahi opened the scoring—and settled a few nerves—in the 21st minute when he met a Congolese clearance with a sweet right-footed effort from outside the area that nestled in the far corner of Joel Kiassumbua’s net.
Tissoudali doubled their advantage in the 45th minute when he latched onto a through ball down the middle, held his nerve, duped Kiassumbua with a slight feint, and propped home beyond the DRC keeper.
The first half concluded with a change between the sticks for Morocco, with Munir Mohamedi introduced for Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou as the latter appeared to suffer a concussion following a collision, despite initially opting to play on.
Cuper made the offensive change to introduce Gael Kakuta for Christian Luyindama at the break, but it was Morocco who struck first in the second half as Ounahi added another, finishing calmly from close-range after being picked out by Tissoudali.
Hakimi added a fourth in the 69th minute when he reacted quickest to side-foot home after Kiassumbua could only parry an effort from range, before Malango’s consolation goal eight minutes later.
Qualification represents the first time since 1998 that the Atlas Lions have qualified for back-to-back World Cups.