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Algeria edge Morocco in penalty thriller to set up Qatar semi-final

Algeria edged out Morocco 5-3 on penalties in a thrilling quarter-final of the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 at the Al Thumama Stadium.      

In what was the clash of the tournament’s heavyweights last night, Algeria and Morocco were leveled 1-1 in the regulation time, with both teams adding a goal each in extra time, taking the high-octane match into the tie-breaker. 

Algerian captain Rais M’Bolhi was the hero for the Desert Warriors, blocking Karim El Berkaoui’s attempt during the penalty shootouts, setting up his team’s semi-final against hosts Qatar on December 15 at the same venue. 

After a goalless first half, Yacine Brahimi put Algeria ahead with a spot kick in 62nd minute penalty before Nahiri Mohammed pulled the goal back only two minutes later. 

The Desert Warriors regained the lead in extra time with Mohammed Belaili netting the ball with a brilliant strike from over 40 yards in 102nd minute. Morocco equalised again through Badr Benoun’s header, nine minutes later. 

Madjid Bougherra-coached Algeria were accurate in their penalties during the tiebreaker, with Belaili, Merouane Zerrouki, Abdelkader Bedrane, Hocine Benayada and Mohamed Tougai being on the target. Soufiane Rahimi, Karim El Berkaoui and Yahya Jabrane safely netted the ball before El Berkaoui had his strike blocked. 

The victory took Algeria’s unbeaten streak to 36 matches while last night’s defeat was first for Morocco in the 32 games – excluding the penalty shootouts.

However, Hussein Ammouta’s Morocco, who advanced to the knockout stage with three straight wins without conceding a single goal, were formidable last night.         

Although no goal was scored in an absorbing first half, it set the pace for the second session, which saw thrilling action.

The excitement though started in the first minute with Morocco’s Marwane Saadane sneaking into Algeria’s box in the first minute. Algeria responded immediately with a counter attack. 

Brahimi in absence of Baghdad Bounedjah was taking the centre stage with his dribbling as teams fought for the ball possession, with Algeria looking a better side. 

Enjoying around 70 percent of the ball possession, Algeria started to attack the Moroccans winning back-to-back corners as the clash started to gain pace. 

The Atlas Lions responded with a threatening attack but goalkeeper M’Bolhi did well to block a fine cross from the right, defying Azzarou Oualid, who just needed an angular touch to put the ball in. 

Moroccan goalkeeper Anas Zniti and M’Bolhi both had to be active due to an exchange of attacks at short intervals, yet they didn’t face any shot on target.       

M’Bolhi then made a brilliant save with a rising effort from a superb header from midfielder Walid El Karti, in what was the first shot on target. The Atlas Lions began to take control of the proceedings but at the half-hour mark, Algeria still had over 60 percent of ball possession.

Ammouta’s side was doing well by creating spaces yet they looked far from proper execution. 

Late into the first half, Zerrouki ran into the box after receiving a long ball but he was stopped by several defenders while Tayeb Meziani hit the ball wide as Algerian forwards pushed for goals without any success. 

Algeria made two attacks soon into the eventful second half, with Meziani’s hit – off a cross by Youcef Belaili – blocked by Zniti. The 25-year-old again raced into the box before Moroccan defenders cleared the ball. 

The Desert Warriors were again impressive in the start of the session and this time they were rewarded with a penalty kick. 

Belaili raced inside the box from the left and was put down by defender Mohamed Chibi, forcing referee Wilton Sampaio to run towards the pitch side monitor before awarding a spot kick to Bougherra’s men. 

Brahimi’s kick on the right corner took a touch of diving Zniti before landing into the net but Algerian joy was short-lived. 

Moroccans, after conceding their first goal of the tournament, responded quickly through Nahiri, who levelled the score with a header from a close range following a free kick from just outside the box. 

Soon after conceding an equaliser, M’Bolhi blocked a strike from substitute El Berkaoui and Algeria were lucky not to concede a goal as Ismail El Haddad hit the ball high on a rebound. 

The Atlas Lions were putting persistent pressure on Algeria, winning several corner kicks as the match headed towards the extra time.  

Algeria bounced back, making most of the attempts in the 15 minutes before the match headed into extra time.

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