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U-23 AFCON: Morocco triumph in penalty kicks to overcome stiff Malian resistance

2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations hosts Morocco were pushed to the limit on Tuesday against Mali in the second semifinal but the Atlas Lions progressed to the final and qualified for the 2024 Summer Olympics with a 4-3 penalty shootout. The teams played to an exhilarating 2-2 draw through ninety minutes and extra time in a match that saw Mali come back on two occasions but fall just short of upsetting the hosts and favorites. Morocco join Egypt in qualifying for the 2024 Olympics men’s tournament in Paris and will face the Pharaohs in the final on Saturday.

The hosts came out and dominated the opening half before striking first in the 14th minute. A splendid passing combination started by Ismael Saibari saw the PSV Eindhoven player exchange passes with Bilal El Khannous before setting up an open shot for Zakaria El Ouahdi whose low effort snuck just under Mali goalkeeper Madou Diakité.

It appeared Morocco would coast to victory but Mali came out inspired and took control to the dismay of the home supporters. In the 66th minute Les Aigles were rewarded for their transformation when a switch of wings led to substitute Cheickna Diakité laying off a pass for Mamady Diambou to curl his shot in from the edge of the penalty area.

Extra time could not separate the teams. The first half came and went without incident but after the teams switched sides for the second half the match left viewers on the edge of their seats. Morocco appeared to have the match won after Amani El Ouazzani headed in a cross from a Taha Younes that was initially ruled out for offside before being corrected by the Video Assistant Referee. However a Malian revival saw Hamidou Diallo’s low cross finished by substitute Issoufi Maïga for a dramatic comeback that set the stage for penalty kicks to decide the outcome.

Mali began the shootout disastrously with Boubacar Traoré striking his effort off the crossbar and out. Morocco proceeded to convert all four of their penalty kicks before Ahmed Diomandé fired Mali’s fifth kick off the crossbar and out to confirm passage to the final for Morocco.

Match Highlights

Full Penalty Kick Shootout

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