The Malawi National Football Team is out of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after a 2-1 defeat to Morocco in the Round of 16 match played at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde on Tuesday night.
Head of Technical Marian Mario Marinica maintained his first eleven that played to a goalless draw with Senegal in the final Group B match last week.
The Flames started brightly when they broke the deadlock just after seven minutes through Gabadinho Mhango’s brilliant strike, which is likely to compete for the goal of the tournament, 0-1.
The goal was a wakeup call to the Atlas Lions who invaded Malawi’s half through Achraf Hakimi, Ayoub El Kaabi and Youssef En-Nesyri in search of the equalizer but they were all left frustrated with the Flames’ resilience that saw them clearing every dangerous ball away from their box.
Charles Thom, who was making his second time appearance for the Flames, produced a save in the 18th minute to deny En-Nesyri from the close range for a corner which was easily dealt with by Dennis Chembezi.
Mhango should have doubled his tally in the 22nd minute when he was played through by Micium Mhone but the attacker saw his left footed shot swerving wide off Yassine Bounou’s goal mouth to the disappointment of Marinica who expected the striker to do more than what he did with the ball in such a one-on-one situation.
The Flames were under siege and no wonder the hosts had a 79 percent ball possession just before the half-hour mark.
Thom was called into action twice to deny Hakimi from scoring from a freekick and El Kaabi whose shot from the rebound was blocked by the goalkeeper.
The Atlas Lions kept on pushing for the equalizer and were very able to unlock Malawi’s defence and they should have leveled in the 33rd minute when Hakimi’s well taken freekick was connected well by Ghanem Saiss only to be denied by the upright, a relief to the Flames who were always second on the ball.
Three minutes after hitting the post, the Moroccans had another opportunity through En-Nesyri but his weaker shot was easily saved by Thom.
Malawi’s goalie was the busiest on the day as he was called into action again with a fantastic save to deny Hakimi from finding the back of the net.
The hosts had another goal bound shot saved by Thom before hitting the post as the Moroccans were all over the place in search for the much needed equalizing goal.
With two minutes to go before the recess, El Kaabi and Imran Louza exchanged passes to release Sofiane Boufal into the six-yard box but he blasted his effort over the crossbar in an unbelievable circumstances as Malawi defence was caught napping in the line of duty.
However, the Atlas Lions couldn’t be denied further when they found the back of the net inside the additional minutes through En-Nesyri who powered home a El Kaabi’s brilliant cross from the left flank of the field, 1-1.
Marinica was forced to make a change before the half time whistle when he brought in Gerald Phiri Junior for the injured Mhone.
In the second half, Richard Mbulu came in for the inactive Khuda Myaba to try to increase the attacking prowess.
In the 61st minute, Francisco Madinga made a brilliant run to the right flank before sending a dangerous cross into the box but Mbulu failed to connect the ball into the net after he lost possession to Nayef Aguerd.
The Moroccans had a penalty shout turned down by the Burundian Referee Pacifique Ndabihawenimana who, upon an intervention from VAR, ruled in favor of Chembezi who was judged to have used his hand to block Hakimi’s cross.
But the Atlas Lions were able to find the back of the net in the 67th minute.
Phiri Junior fouled Boufal closer to the 18-yard box and Hakimi stepped up to send the ball direct into the net, beating Thom who, despite stretching his hands, couldn’t stop the rocket from hitting the back of the net, 2-1.
Marinica made a double change soon after conceding by introducing Mark Fodya and Stain Davie for Stainley Sanudi and Madinga.
The Moroccans had another opportunity to increase their lead in the 75th minute when Boufal and En-Nesyri exchanged passes to release Louza whose shot was saved by Thom before an offside call against El Kaabi from the rebound.
Robin Ngalande replaced Chimwemwe Idana in the 79th to try to force the match to extra time with a late equalizer but the hosts were just too good to surrender their lead with less than ten minutes to play before the end of the match.
As Malawi tried to push for the equalizer, the Atlas Lions defended with maturity to seal a quarterfinal place after such an intriguing match against a side which wasn’t given a chance to progress to the knockout stages of Africa’s biggest competition.