Ayoub El Kaabi stepped off the bench to score a sublime 88th minute winner as Morocco came from a goal down to beat a stubborn South Africa side 2-1 in their opening Group K match of the TotalEnergies 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Bafana shot stopper Ronwen Williams had put on a superb show to keep his side in the game, but he was breached with a late winner as the Atlas Lions started off their campaign on a winning note at home.
Youssef En Nesyri had scored a second half equalizer to cancel out Lyle Foster’s seventh minute goal, and El Kaabi ensured all points were guarded with a volleyed finish two minutes to full time.
While South Africa went to the break with a single goal lead, all the plaudits were on their goalkeeper Williams who kept them in the game with brilliant saves.
The visitors got an early seventh minute lead when Foster struck low past the keeper after being played through by a defense splitting pass from Sphephelo Sithole. But that was mostly about it as far as the Bafana Bafana attack was concerned.
From then on, it turned out to be a duel between the Moroccan forward line and keeper Williams.
The shot stopper made two brilliant saves within a minute after the quarter hour mark to deny Youssef En Nesyri. The keeper first made a point blank save to parry away his strong header from a cross on the left before making a flying save to deny the striker’s curling left footed effort.
In the 18th minute Morocco had another glorious opportunity when the ball fell kindly on Tarik Tissoudali inside the box, but his swinging shot was awkward.
Williams was called into action again in the 34th minute making another important save, this time denying Ilias Chair with a smart low save after he drove in to the edge of the box from the left.
The home side had another glorious opportunity when Tissoudali headed down the ball for Selim Amallah inside the box but the winger’s effort on the volley was awry and over.
In the second minute of added time, Williams made another vital block to deny Achraf Hakimi who had pulled the trigger with a well taken shot from the right.
In the second half, Morocco continued with their pressure and Williams was finally breached five minutes after the restart when En Nesyri headed home from close range. The forward finally got his goal after skipper Roman Saiss headed a deep cross into his path.
Chair almost made it 2-1 seven minutes later when he let fly a belter from distance, but it flew straight into the keeper’s waiting arms.
Williams made another brilliant save in the 76th minute, this time adjusting his body superbly to spring to his right and punch away a header from substitute Ayoub El Kaabi.
From the resultant set piece, South Africa defended well and launched a counter, with Percy Tau setting up Foster for his second, but he couldn’t wrap up a good shooting technique, the ball flying over. Tau had another quick chance off a similar counter but this time he took the responsibility himself, shooting over the bar.
El Kaabi finally got his goal with two minutes of regulation time to play as he swung home a volley from inside the six-yard box off Amine Harit’s cross from the left.