Morocco underlined their status as pre-tournament favourites by beating 10-man Tanzania 3-0 to make a winning start to their Africa Cup of Nations campaign in Group F.
The World Cup semifinalists got their campaign under way with an impressive performance at the Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro on Wednesday.
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Captain Romain Saiss scored a rare goal to put the Atlas Lions ahead at halftime with Azzedine Ounahi and Youssef En-Nesyri adding two more in the space of three second-half minutes to emphasise their dominance, especially after Tanzania had Novatus Miroshi sent off after a second caution.
En-Nesyri had to wait until he was on the substitutes’ bench before celebrating his goal.
En-Nesyri’s celebrations were initially cut short by the offside flag after he scored his team’s third goal in the 80th minute. He had already made way for substitute Amine Harit to go on in his place before a VAR check confirmed he had been onside for Achraf Hakimi’s cross.
It prompted En-Nesyri’s teammates to rush to the Moroccan bench to congratulate the Sevilla forward.
Ounahi sealed the win seven minutes later after playing a one-two with Amine Adli and striking a low shot inside the left post, three minutes before En-Nesyri had the final say.
Although an African powerhouse for decades, Morocco are seeking only a second Cup of Nations title 48 years after lifting the trophy in Ethiopia.
The victory over group outsiders Tanzania in the southwest of the Ivory Coast was anticipated as Morocco are ranked 13th in the world, 108 places above the Taifa Stars.
Morocco began with seven players from the team that started in the 2-0 World Cup semifinal loss to France in Qatar.
There were three La Liga players, two each from the Premier League and Ligue 1 and two with Saudi Pro League sides. Moroccans with Turkish and Egyptian clubs completed the lineup.
This contrasted sharply with Tanzania, whose lineup included Tarryn Allarakhia from English fifth-tier outfit Wealdstone. The winger struggled and was replaced after 38 minutes.
The convincing scoreline matched the three-goal victory for holders Senegal over The Gambia on Monday, reinforcing their status as the continent’s top-ranked sides and the teams most fancied for success at the tournament.