Morocco are the 2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations champions! The hosts were given all they could handle by a determined performance from defending champions Egypt but a goal from Oussama Targhalline was the difference in a 2-1 victory for the Atlas Lions after extra time. After finishing as runners-up in their only previous U-23 AFCON appearance in 2011, Morocco win the trophy in the fourth edition of the competition. Both nations will represent Africa at the 2024 Summer Olympics men’s football tournament in Paris.
The Egyptian team declared their intentions of defending the title early on, forcing Morocco goalkeeper Alaa Bellaarouch into a good save in the 3rd minute when a ricochet fell kindly for Pyramids FC player Ahmed Otta. Seven minutes later the Pharaohs stunned the home support when a pass attempt into the box was touched out and Otta’s club teammate Mahmoud Saber unleashed a perfect curled strike into the top corner from around forty yards out.
Saber went from hero to villain only moments later however when he went in too high on a tackle and made contact with the shin of Morocco star Abde Ezzalzouli, an incident the Video Assistant Referee and center official Peter Waweru punished with a red card. The hosts found their equalizer in the 37th minute through Yannis Begraoui who fired in his third goal of the tournament from an excellent cross by Bilal El Khannous.
The Moroccans struggled to break down a stubborn Egyptian defense despite the numerical advantage. Ismael Saibari failed to convert on a couple of chances and Egypt nearly shocked the crowd late on but Mahmoud Gehad’s dangerous 88th minute strike from long range went just over the goal.
Extra time was necessary and Egypt continued to cause problems on the counter to keep Morocco honest. Just when it seemed the Pharaohs made it through the first extra time session unscathed the decisive moment arrived for the Atlas Lions.
In the only minute of added time a free kick outside the Egyptian penalty area was played short by Ezzalzouli to substitute Targhalline and the Le Havre midfielder’s low shot snuck through Egypt keeper Hamza Alaa to the joy of the Moroccan supporters. An exhausted ten-man Egypt team struggled to create opportunities and Morocco held on to claim the trophy.
Highlights of the final are below.