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AFCON 2023 Round of 16 Preview: Morocco vs South Africa

North Africa’s last representative remaining faces a stern test from Bafana Bafana to close out the Round of 16 on Tuesday evening when Morocco clashes with South Africa in San Pédro. Morocco won Group F but the heat and humidity of Ivory Coast continues to be a difficult environment and there are a couple of notable absences for the Atlas Lions. Read more on both teams below as South Africa attempts to upstage one of the pre-tournament favorites:

Morocco vs South Africa- 20:00 GMT

Morocco

Morocco defensive midfielder Sofyan Amrabat is the trusted general for coach Walid Regragui who will lead the Atlas Lions into battle

The buildup to the match featured some good news and bad news for the Moroccan team. Head coach Walid Regragui and the Royal Moroccan Football Federation successfully appealed his suspension and the tactician will be on the sidelines for Tuesday’s match. However, winger Sofiane Boufal was ruled out for the rest of the competition due to injury and there are serious doubts that playmaker Hakim Ziyech will take part against South Africa. Bafana Bafana are a well known opponent for Regragui who stated that he studied the opponent closely after they defeated Morocco during qualifying for the ongoing AFCON.

One thing the Atlas Lions can rely on is their defense, something that can carry a team far in the knockout stages. Captain Romain Saïss appears to be back in the team after being rested in the Group F finale against Zambia and he will partner with Nayef Aguerd in front of Africa’s best goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou. The quality of Achraf Hakimi on the right flank is well known and his attacking duties will increase if Ziyech is out. At left back, Yahya Attiyat Allah returned for the Zambia match and Noussair Mazraoui could be involved after his own return from injury.

In the midfield, Sofyan Amrabat is a fierce competitor in front of the defensive line with a technically accomplished duo in front of Amrabat, Selim Amallah and Azzedine Ounahi. Ounahi will need to focus more on his playmaking duties if Ziyech is out due to injury and the Olympique Marseille player is capable of succeeding with an increased attacking role. Abde Ezzalzouli is set to return to the left wing position and Amine Adli is a candidate to replace Ziyech on the right as well as Amine Harit. Tarik Tissoudali is another versatile attacker who could play from the start on either wing or at the striker position where incumbent Youssef En-Nesyri needs to have a good match.

South Africa

Bafana Bafana fan favorite Themba Zwane was initially left out by coach Hugo Broos early in the coach’s reign but worked his way back into the team and is thriving in Ivory Coast

There is no question: South Africa smell blood and recognize this is an excellent opportunity to upset the 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinalists. Head coach Hugo Broos spoke about the large number of upsets in the competition so far and referenced South Africa’s victory over the Atlas Lions in qualifying. Broos and his team are healthy, ready to go and also ready to believe that they can possibly reach the final with a victory on Tuesday.

The theme for South Africa is chemistry and they have an advantage due to the fact that eight regulars in the eleven of Broos play at the same club with Mamelodi Sundowns. The defense is populated entirely by Sundowns players including excellent goalkeeper Ronwen Williams and rangy fullbacks Khuliso Mudau and Aubrey Modiba. Portuguese-based defensive midfielder Sphephelo Sithole will sit in front of a Sundowns central defense partnership consisting of Mothobi Mvala and Grant Kekana.

Sithole will partner in the midfield with another Sundowns star, Teboho Mokoena, who has an excellent long range shot and can create opportunities for quick wingers Percy Tau and Thapelo Morena with his accurate passing. Sundowns playmaker Themba Zwane is in his best form and the 34-year-old will sit behind powerful striker Evidence Makgopa who will need to do the tough work against Moroccan central defenders Aguerd and Saïss. Zakhele Lepasa is a striker who will likely come on for Makgopa at some point and the Orlando Pirates player scored the match winner in South Africa’s 2-1 victory over Morocco last June.

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