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Hakimi strikes again to boost Morocco over Malawi

It will be a matchup of West Africa versus North Africa in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations following Morocco’s 2-1 victory over Malawi on Tuesday. Achraf Hakimi produced another magical free kick to win it for the Atlas Lions after Youssef En-Nesyri’s late first half strike cancelled out a splendid opener from Malawi’s Frank “Gabadinho” Mhango. Morocco will face Senegal in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

All the experts gave Malawi no chance heading into the clash, but a stunning effort from star striker Mhango gave the Flames a shock lead. Collecting a pass from Peter Banda, the Orlando Pirates player used a burst of pace to cut inside and then attempted an audacious shot from forty yards out. Morocco goalkeeper Yassin Bounou was caught completely by surprise and could only watch the shot loop over him and in for Malawi’s dream start.

Malawi promptly bunkered and attempted to hold out for as long as possible with Mhango the only player in the attacking half for long stretches, who did manage to pop up again with a chance to double the lead but shot wide in the 23rd minute. Morocco dominated possession but were initially frustrated by another inspired effort from Flames keeper Charles Thom, who continued on from his Man of the Match performance against Senegal.

Hakimi, Imran Louza and Sofiane Boufal were the main generators of Moroccan attacks and Hakimi forced Thom into a save with his free kick on 27 minutes. Louza provided a free kick from out wide that found center back and captain Romain Saïss, but the Wolves player’s touch went off the crossbar. After several close calls, the Atlas Lions finally got a crucial equalizer just before halftime. Selim Amallah found space on the left wing and sent in a cross to find En Nesyri at the far post, who leaped high to head the ball off Thom’s hand and into the net.

The underdogs attempted to venture forward a bit more after the break but it was Morocco who continued to look more dangerous. Substitute Ryan Mmaee cut inside from the right wing and his shot was just deflected wide in the 64th minute. The 70th minute saw Morocco take the lead and it was their superstar Hakimi who came up with his second free kick goal of the competition. The Paris Saint-Germain full back launched a dipping blast from close to thirty yards that was similar to his strike against Gabon and Thom had no chance at keeping it out.

Morocco failed to extend their lead in the final twenty minutes but kept Malawi at arm’s length. Malawi manager Mario Marinica attempted to bring in attacking substitutions but the Flames attack failed to spark and Morocco held off to set up what should be a highly anticipated quarterfinal matchup against Senegal.

Highlights are below.

7′- Gabadinho Mhango’s audacious goal gives Malawi a shock lead

45’+2- En Nesyri heads in Amallah cross to level the match

70′- Hakimi’s free kick laser wins it for Morocco

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