After the shock exit of Nigeria and the elimination of Gabon, the Round of 16 continues – the battle for the continental trophy is getting keener by the day.
This time 1976 AFCON winners, Morocco come up against Malawi. Morocco will be seeking to win their 2nd Africa Cup of Nations title in 18 attempts, their first in 46 years. Malawi, on the other hand, have managed to make their 3rd AFCON appearance( the other two being 1984 and 2010).
After missing the last 5 AFCON tournaments, the Flames of Malawi are back with a bang. They have qualified to the knock-out stage of the AFCON for the 1st time in their footballing history. A huge task lies ahead of them, beating the Atlas Lions of Morocco who are seeking for a 46-year trophy drought.
Morocco, currently ranked 28th in the world and 2nd in Africa faces a Malawian team ranked 35th in Africa and 128th in the world. This a case of David vs Goliath. With the results the tournament has churned out so far, any “David vs Goliath affair” tends to produce surprising outcomes.
Equatorial Guinea beating Algeria, Sierra Leone holding Ivory Coast and Algeria to a draw, Gambia beating Tunisia and Comoros beating Ghana are typical examples.
These results are a portent to Morocco not to be complacent and lose focus like the Super Eagles did against Tunisia as it may cost them their place.
Morocco are the team to beat at the African Cup of Nations so far, especially with the strong defensive performances having kept clean sheets in two of their three games. The Atlas Lions of Morocco beat Ghana 1-0 in their opening game and defeated Comoros 2-0 in the next game before drawing 2-2 with Gabon.
After returning to Africa’s continental showpiece for the 1st time since 2010, Malawi stole a point from Senegal and staged a comeback against Zimbabwe and eventually defeated Guinea to qualify to the next stage. The Flames came through the group stages as one of the highest-ranked third-placed teams at the AFCONS and are enduring a miserable return in front of goal having failed to score goals in two of their three outings and may bow out of the tournament this week.
For Malawi, a case for respite is the fact that at the last AFCON in 2019, Morocco was eliminated by Benin, a lower-ranked side. Since finishing as runners-up in 2004, the Atlas Lions of Morocco have made it to the quarter-finals only once(in 2017).
That should jolt the Flames into shocking the Atlas Lions. Morocco’s 2-2 draw with Gabon is also an indication that victory is not far fetched.
The Flames are currently on a 2 game unbeaten run while 6 of Morocco’s last 8 AFCON victories have ended in 1-0.
WHERE AND WHEN?
Venue: Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde.
Date: 25th January 2022.
Time: 19:00 HRS BST.
Ilias Chair, the attacking midfielder came off injured early in Morocco’s game against Gabon. The QPR player is the player who is doubtful for the Atlas Lions ahead of Tuesday’s game.
For Malawi, Captain Limbikani Mzava came off injured against Zimbabwe and is expected to miss Tuesday’s clash. The central defender is the only injury concern for manager Mario Marinica.
Lawrence Chaziya will be expected to be in his stead.
Malawi have tried the 3-4-1-2 formation on 2 occasions against Guinea and Zimbabwe. However, in the final group game, they also implemented the 4-4-2 formation against Senegal. It is fair to say the formation worked to perfection and will be maintained a very potent Moroccan attack.
The 4-4-2 formation will provide the Malawians with a solid basic structure with defensive depth and attacking numbers, with clearly marked roles. In defence, the Malawians will have eight men defending the goal which will, in turn, make it numerically impossible for the Moroccans to threaten the goal.
Without the ball, the four defenders and four midfielders will cover the entire width of the field. The Moroccans will really need to be creative and resort to long through balls to wreak havoc on the Flames.
For Morocco, they have experimented with the 4-1-4-1 formation and it seems to be what Head Coach Vahid Halilhodžić will be employing against the Flames. Sofyan Amrabat will be the holding midfielder for the Moroccans who will have about 5 players in attack.
For the Atlas Lions to triumph over the Flames, they will need Selim Amallah, Imran Louza, Sofiane Boufal and Ayoub El Kaabi to be firing from all angles. Amalgam, Boufal and Ayoub El Kaabi have already got their names on the scoresheet for the team already and will be seeking to add more to their tallies.
The 4-1-4-1 is supposed to cushion the team into creating a lot of chances, holding on possession and controlling the game.
PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYER FEATURE
The Wolverhampton Wanderers Centre back has featured in all 3 games so far, keeping 2 clean sheets against Ghana and Comoros. He has been defensively solid for the Atlas Lions and will be expected to bring his experience to bear.
Watford‘s Masina has also been solid for the Moroccan team featuring actively in all 3 matches and will be in the thick of affairs for the team.
MOROCCO: Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Adam Masina; Sofyan Amrabat; Tarik Tissoudali, Selim Amallah, Imran Louza, Sofiane Boufal; Ayoub El Kaabi.
MALAWI: Ernest Kakhobwe; Denis Chembezi, Lawrence Chaziya, Gomezgani Chirwa; Francisco Madinga, John Christopher Banda, Chimwenwe Idana, Stanley Sanudi; Gabadinho Mhango; Richard Mbulu, Khuda Muyaba.
Morocco 2-0 Malawi