South Africa pulled off a major upset by defeating tournament favorites Morocco 2-0 in the last-16 stage. The match, held at the Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro, Ivory Coast, showcased an inspired South African performance that sent Morocco crashing out of the competition.
The game’s narrative unfolded with South Africa adopting a cautious approach in the first half, emphasizing containment and defensive solidity. Despite Morocco’s status as one of the top-ranked teams and World Cup semi-finalists in 2022, they struggled to break down the resolute South African defense. The first 45 minutes lacked clear-cut chances, with both teams locked in a tactical battle.
The turning point arrived in the 57th minute when Evidence Makgopa found the back of the net, capitalizing on a well-timed pass from midfielder Themba Zwane. A VAR check confirmed Makgopa’s onside position, putting South Africa in the lead. The muggy conditions seemed to affect Morocco, missing the attacking prowess of the injured Hakim Ziyech.
As the match progressed, Morocco’s hopes suffered a severe blow when they were awarded a penalty in the 83rd minute. However, Achraf Hakimi’s attempt rattled the crossbar, denying Morocco the equalizer. South Africa’s stoic defense and counter-attacking strategy paid off, frustrating the Moroccan side.
The climax of the game saw Sofyan Amrabat receiving a red card for a professional foul in stoppage time, reducing Morocco to 10 men. Seizing the numerical advantage, Teboho Mokoena secured South Africa’s victory with a sublime free kick, capping off a memorable performance for the underdogs.
South Africa’s coach, Hugo Bross, attributed the triumph to a tactical approach that focused on containment in the first half and exploiting opportunities in the second. Bafana Bafana’s historic win sets up a quarter-final clash against Cape Verde on Saturday, marking their progress in the tournament and igniting hopes of a deep run.
For Morocco, the disappointment was palpable. Coach Walid Regragui acknowledged the team’s struggle, referring to their repeated failures in the Africa Cup of Nations as an “African curse.” Despite boasting a top-ranking status, Morocco has consistently underperformed in the tournament since their lone triumph in 1976.
The shock result adds to the unpredictability of the Africa Cup of Nations 2023, with other top-ranked teams like Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso also exiting early. The quarter-finals promise more intense matchups, with South Africa aiming to continue their impressive campaign against Cape Verde.