CHAN: Morocco sink Mali to become first team to retain title

Morocco became the first team to successfully defend the African Nations Championship (CHAN) trophy with a 2-0 win over Mali in Cameroon on Sunday.

The Moroccans were made to work hard for their win and both of their goals came from second-half corners in front of around 6,700 fans at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde.

Soufiane Bouftini headed home the first before Ayoub El Kaabi, who scored nine goals in 2018 to help Morocco win the title on home soil, scored the second.

To make matters worse for Mali, they finished the game with 10 men after the dismissal of Issaka Samake for a second yellow card as the game entered injury time.

Kenyan referee Peter Waweru had initially cautioned Samake only for Morocco’s Mohammed Ali Bemammer to recommend he look at the pitch-side monitor and after a lengthy Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review, he reversed his decision and showed Samake a second yellow.

Mali started the match on the front foot and seemed to surprise the Moroccans as they pushed forward and disrupted their passing game.

There were some clumsy challenges from both sides in the opening 20 minutes and from one of the resulting free-kicks, Soufiane Rahimi picked up a short pass before firing a shot from the edge of the area which Mali captain and keeper Djigui Diarra scrambled away, with the help of his defence.

A few minutes later, Mali’s Moussa Kone found himself in behind the defence but experienced Morocco goalkeeper Anas Zniti spread himself to block the shot.

Morocco managed to start the second half with more possession and created the early chances. Ten minutes after the break, they thought they had earned a penalty only for VAR to rule otherwise.

Moments later, Mali’s Sadio Kanoute will feel he should have done better as he rose highest to get his head on the ball but put it narrowly wide.

In the 63rd minute, Moussa Kone was once again one-on-one with the keeper but Zniti made another excellent save.

The breakthrough came in the 69th minute as Bouftini headed home a corner swung in by Omar Namsaoui.

Morocco’s second had a touch of fortune about it as the ball looked to have gone behind for a goal kick but the referee awarded a corner that was headed back across goal by Mohammed Ali Bemammer and nodded home by El Kaabi.

El Kaabi’s compatriot Soufiane Rahimi finished as the tournament’s top scorer with five goals, including a brace in the semi-final win over hosts Cameroon.

Recently reinstated Confederation of African Football president Ahmad was part of the presentation ceremony at the end of the match alongside former Cameroon players Samuel Eto’o, Patrick Mboma and Jacques Songo’o.

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