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Hakimi freekick sends Morocco to Africa Cup of Nations last eight

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Morocco players celebrate their win over Malawi

Achraf Hakimi scored a 70th minute freekick as Morocco’s Atlas Lions withheld the challenge of Malawi’s Flames to book a slot in the quarter finals of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon on Wednesday.

The North Africans had to fight from a goal down after Gabadinho Mhango had given the Malawians an early lead, with Youssef en Nessyri having equalized two minutes into added time in the first half.

“This victory reflects the great teamwork shown by all of us. We will continue to work towards our goal. Today I also had the privilege of scoring a free-kick, I don’t know which goal was the best. I will stop and watch to evaluate. This one was more difficult because of the angle. Right now, I’m focusing on my team and the next phase. I have been practicing this kind of situations and I am happy when goals come in games,” said Hakimi, duly named man of the match.

Morocco would have had more goals, but the expertise of goalkeeper Charles Thomu thwarted the Atlas Lions time and again.

Mhango broke the deadlock for the Malawians in the seventh minute with a  peach of a strike, a contender for goal of the tournament. The Orlando Pirates man did well to show his strength and muscle away from Hakimi before powering a 40-yard belter beyond keeper Yassine Bounou.

But from then on, it was Morocco pinning Malawi into their own half and Thomu being forced into save after save. In the 16th minute, the keeper did well to punch away a curling shot from Adam Masina.

Three minutes later, En Nessyri came close when he picked up a cross from Hakimi, but his shot on the turn was just wide from the edge of the six yard box.

Gabadinho Mhango in action against Morocco’s Roman Saiss

Morocco continued to press Malawi, as they sought to get back into the game.

They were almost caught out on the counter in the 22nd minute when Mhango broke away on the counter, but he took a rushed shot from his weaker left foot which rolled wide with Bounou well beaten.

Morocco kept the hunt and Thomu had to be at his best to pull off a brilliant double save in the 27th minute. He first flew to his left to punch away a well curled freekick from Hakimi before he bounced back up again to keep out Imran Louza’s effort from the rebound.

Morocco came inches close in the 33rd minute when skipper Romain Saiss whipped in a half volley from a Louza freekick but it came off the crossbar.

Five minutes to the break the keeper did well again to push a Hakimi shot against the post before seconds later saving another effort from Soufiane Boufal.

But, the custodian ultimately caved in two minutes into stoppage time when En Nessyri’s powerful header from Selim Amallah’s cross beat the custodian, the two sides going to the break one a-piece.

In the second half, Morocco kept the press and they were duly rewarded in the 70th minute when Hakimi curled in a brilliant freekick into the top left corner of Thomu’s goal to take Morocco into the lead.

The North Africans guarded the single-goal advantage, despite Malawi trying to fight to get back into contention.

They will now face off with the winner between Ivory Coast and Egypt who play later Wednesday.

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