Morocco’s Atlas Lions defeated Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles 1-0, maintaining the Moroccan squad’s pre-World Cup confidence and quality.
Although the match at Tunisia’s Stade Olympique de Rades was a friendly, it counted a lot in terms of team morale and quality assessment, especially as the two African giants are preparing for sterner challenges on the continental stage.
Emerging from a draining week of CAN qualifiers, both teams are in the process of putting in place competitive squads to represent them at Africa’s foremost football tournament in June 2019 in Cameroon.
On a chilly night of intermittently tantalizing football between the two North African country, Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri scored the evening’s only goal at the 41st minute of the game.
There was energy and desire in the remaining minutes of the game. There was depth, though occasionally. Most of all, perhaps, there was, from both teams, a constant need to make a strong statement of quality, even superiority.
While Morocco wanted to break the curse of Rades (where they had never won before), Tunisia, ranked above Morocco in FIFA rankings, had no desire to relinquish its on-paper superiority.
There may have been no qualifying spot at stake, no trophy to win. But what was at stake looked great enough, big enough, worth fighting for: pride.
Morocco’s Atlas Lions played to break from the psychological weight of never winning at Rades, an aspiration which Tunisia’s Eagles were determined to smash.
Medhi Benatia and Romain Saiss showed a solid rock-solid defence and kept Tunisia at bay. A few minutes before the break, it was the captain, Benatia, who fired a shot from far away after Abdelilah Hafidi was fouled in the middle of half of the opponents’ area. Youssef En-Nesyri, aware of the rebound, scored his sixth international goal.
Morocco, deploying a cautious 4-4-2 tactical disposition in the second half, foiled the Tunisian team’s regained energy. And despite repeated pressure from Tunisia’s Eagles, Morocco’s Lions seemed comfortable in their 1-0 lead.
Tunisia’s striker Wahbi Khazri and defender Nordin Amrabat of Morocco received one yellow card each.
Renard’s men struggled to find their feet at the start of the game and Tunisia did well to push them high up on the pitch.
And so, Morocco, who had also won its latest game, a much urgent qualifier game against Cameroon, succeeded in maintaining its invincibility against Tunisia.
If anything, the past few days have been enormously rapturous for Atlas Lions and their fans. After breaking the curse of never beating Cameroon, they’ve just broken that of never beating Tunisia in Rades. Perhaps, after all, that’s what Renard-coached teams do: they reduce the domains of implausibility.
For all the criticism that Renard and his boys have received after their early World Cup exit and the immediate lacklustre displays that followed, Morocco’s team seems to have found its way back to a beautiful and confident football.