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The Panthers go toe-to-toe with the Atlas Lions as Hakimi thunderbolt secures Morocco’s group winner status

In a battle for top spot in Group C at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Gabon gave Morocco all the group favorites could handle but were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw. Achraf Hakimi’s brilliant technical strike off a free kick leveled the match late for the Atlas Lions, who end as group winners on seven points. Gabon continue their inspirational campaign and advance to the Round of 16 as runners-up.

Morocco looked to control the match with possession but encountered a Gabonese team that has and continues to show plenty of ability on the counter. Les Panthères were able to prevent any early defensive errors and settled in well as the opening twenty minutes passed by without any opportunities of substance.

However, the same was not the case for Morocco and in the 21st minute a loss of focus put Gabon up. A long ball was sent by Gabon keeper Jean-Noël Amonome towards the Moroccan penalty area. As the ball bounced beyond the midfield, center back Soufiane Chakla slipped as he prepared to make a play and the ball bounced beyond him. Gabon attacker Jim Allevinah opportunistically latched onto the ball and slipped a low finish past Morocco goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi for a shock opener.

Gabon went on to be the better team for the remainder of the first half and could have gone up by more. Aaron Boupendza turned past a Moroccan defender after the half hour mark but toe poked his shot just wide and defender Lloyd Palun had a free header close to halftime that was tipped over by Munir.

The real excitement came after halftime in a thrilling second half as Gabon continued to push the Atlas Lions through Allevinah. In the 56th minute the Clermont player was well fed by a pass from Anthony Oyono but sent his finish past an advancing Munir and just wide. Allevinah was feeling his best form as evidenced close to the hour mark when he attempted a looping volley from a tight angle that glanced off the crossbar on its way out of play.

Morocco struck back in the 73rd minute when substitute Soufiane Boufal was tripped up in the Gabon penalty area, allowing the Angers playmaker to step up and put his spot kick beyond Amonome. It appeared that Morocco could go on and win the match but Gabon once again caught the Atlas Lions on the break in the 81st. Johann Obiang’s pass from the midfield picked out Oyono, who did excellently to get to the ball before the end line and crossed back for Boupendza, whose super finish into the roof of the net gave Munir no chance to react.

Star moments from star players will take a team far, and Morocco’s star stepped up to save his team from defeat. A free kick was awarded to Morocco from 25 yards out and wing back Achraf Hakimi stepped up to deliver a combination of swerve and power on his strike that was too overwhelming for Amonome to keep out.

The first matchup of the Round of 16 is confirmed as Gabon will now face Burkina Faso. Morocco await a third-placed team from either Group A, B or F. Highlights of the thriller are below.

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