Morocco showed their FIFA Arab Cup title credentials in empathic style Wednesday with a 4-0 rout of Palestine at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Mohamed Nahiri gave Morocco the lead in the 31st minute before Abdelilah Hafidi bagged a brace in the second half. With three minutes remaining, Badr Benoun added the fourth goal with a penalty.
Morocco are one of the favourites in the tournament, despite bringing their reserve team to Qatar. They are missing Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi and Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, but the Atlas Lions showed Wednesday they have exciting youngsters in their ranks to challenge for the title.
Morocco’s manager Hussein Ammouta was delighted with his team’s performance.
“We deserved this victory and it will give us motivation and confidence for the rest of the tournament,” he said.
“I expected the match to be more difficult, but my players were good at putting pressure on Palestine and controlled the match. We also created many opportunities, especially in the first half,” he added.
“We played with high intensity in the second half, especially in defence, which gave us the ability to attack and score more goals. Overall, I think it’s important to win the first match. Now we have to turn our attention to the next match,” said Ammouta, who led a squad of home-based players to success at the 2020 African Nations Championship in Cameroon.
Morocco were expected to have a tough time against Palestine, a side that has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. But they were on the front foot right from the start, but wasted many scoring opportunities.
In the third minute, Mohamed Chibi’s right footed shot from outside the box was close, but missed the top left corner, while Karim El Berkaoui also missed the net in the next minute. Achraf Bencharki had a chance to open Morocco’s account in the 21st minute but his left footed shot went wide.
But it didn’t take long for Morocco to go ahead. In the 31st minute, Nahiri after receiving a pass from Marwane Saadane found the net with a long range strike to the top left corner with Palestine goalkeeper Amr Kaddoura being a mere spectator.
The Moroccans came back with some attacking intent in the second half. Nahiri went close couple of times before Oualid Azaro’s header from the centre of the box was saved by Kaddoura. But Palestine couldn’t stop Morroco from doubling the lead in the 56th minute with Hafidi slotting home after Mohamed Chibi played a through ball.
The Raja winger was on target again eight minutes later as he found the bottom left corner with a shot from outside the box. Substitute Walid Azzaro thought he had increased the lead for Morocco in the 72nd minute but the referee disallowed the goal for off-side.
However, the Atlas Lions were not to be denied their fourth goal after a push by a Palestine defender in the box. Ahly defender Badr Benoun stepped up to take a penalty and converted it to complete Palestine rout and a perfect start for his side.
Morocco next take on Jordan on Saturday, while Palestine face Saudi Arabia on the same day.