AFCON 2017: Morocco shocked by underdogs DR Congo

AFCON 2017: Morocco shocked by underdogs DR Congo
Morocco struggled to find the net against unlikely winners DR Congo, in a disappointing match for the North African side, which still showed some promise.
3 min read
17 Jan, 2017
Underdogs DR Congo left the pitch elated after a stunning result against Morocco [Anadolu]

Morocco opened their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a tough match against the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday night at the Stade d'Oyem in Gabon.

The Atlas Lions started the match with an organised style of play and soon dominated the rhythm of the match. Mbarak Boussafa and Hamza Mandyl created many chances from the flanks, and there was a sense of a Moroccan goal in the making.

High hopes

It was significant that head coach Herve Renard - a back-to-back African Cup of Nation champion with the Zambian and Ivory Coast teams - definitely left his mark on the Moroccan team. On the other side, Florent Ibenge's players looked clueless in defence and lacked coordination up front

Around the 26th minute, DR Congo finally showed up to the challenge. The Leopards tried their luck twice on goal with shots from a distance, but Moroccan goalie Munir Mohand Mohemdi held them both with confidence.

Morocco again took over the match and tried several ways to break the ball into the Congolese goal. DR Congo reverted back to a chaotic performance.

Goalless after 45 minutes, the Moroccans left with a positive feeling displaying good football in the first part of the match and beginning the second-half in the exactly same way.

There were a few chances for Morocco, a yellow card for DR Congo's N'skala and the North African team went on to control the game. But it all went up-side-down for Morocco.

In the 54th minute, Junior Kabananga shocked the whole stadium by scoring a surprise goal for DR Congo. The Congolese midfielder took advantage of a mistake and bad positioning by Morocco's Munir in front of the goal, and beautifully hammered in a rebound from close range.

The 1-0 score-line for Congo left the crowd in shock and Morocco stopped functioning at this point. From then on, the North African side seemed handicapped by very fragile mind-sets.

Closing in

In the 70th minute Morocco began to strike back in anger and regain their composure. Congo could barely put two passes together and the Lions of the Atlas went on the attack, but missed their chances devastatingly.

DR Congo went down to ten men after a foolish foul by defender Joyce Lomalisa, who already had a yellow card for time wasting. If that wasn't enough Congolese captain Gabriel Zakuani was injured and had to leave the field.

Ibenge had already finished with his allocated substitutions and with eight minutes left until the final whistle, DR Congo were forced to play with just nine men.

Substitute Yousouf El-Arabi - who was Morocco's top goal scorer in the qualifications' campaign - produced a beautiful header, which the Congolese keeper blocked in style.

Fajr, another Moroccan substitute, tried again but it was impossible to break Ley Matampi in the Congolese goal. The Moroccans tried harder but lacked the x-factor that was needed to put the ball in the back of the net.

After six long minutes of extra-time, the referee blew the final whistle to signal the end of the match. It now doesn't look good for manager Renard or Morocco.

This game is listed as another of North African teams' catastrophes in the 2017 African Cup of Nations so far, following disappointing results for Algeria and Tunisia on Sunday. 

Tonight's game was different with Morocco playing well and out-performing their opponents during the majority of the game. But they lacked the character and spirit to win it. The Congolese benefited from a terrific display by their goalkeeper Matampi and a combative attitude from the players.

All eyes now are on Egypt, who will open their tournament on Tuesday against Mali. They bring the hopes of many that a win for Egypt could change the fortunes of other North African teams.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here