Analyzing the player performances in the narrow 1-0 win against The Black Warriors in Cairo.
Inside a boiling hot Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, the Moroccan national team kicked off the Africa Cup of Nations group-stage against The Black Warriors of Namibia. Hervé Renard suprised a few with his team selection, starting international newcomer Mehdi Bourabia and the young Youssef Aït Bennasser in midfield, alongside veteran Mbark Boussoufa. Karim El Ahmadi and Sofiane Boufal were placed on the bench, while Younès Belhanda was missing through injury.
Morocco struggled to break down an organized Namibia side and you could see players growing increasingly frustrated, especially the defenders, looking for options further up the pitch. Youssef En-Nesyri looked isolated up top and Nordin Amrabat certainly didn’t work out on the left wing.
After the break, Renard eventually brought on Boufal for Bourabia and the Celta Vigo man took the game by the scruff of the neck, creating dangerous opportunities out of nothing. But it took a crossed free-kick from Hakim Ziyech in the dying minutes, to finally break down the minnows, as substitute Itamunua Keimuine put the ball into his own net.
Here are our player ratings from today’s AFCON opener (1-10):
Yassine Bounou (6)
Didn’t have much to do, but looked comfortable whenever called upon. Important for Bounou to gain some confidence after letting in nearly every shot on target, leading up to the tournament.
Nabil Dirar (4)
The most consistent player in Renard’s first period as manager, but his time looks to be over. Struggling to keep up with any attacker placed on his side and has to resort to fouls instead. He’s also nowhere near as involved in attack as he used to be.
Medhi Benatia (8 MOTM)
What a response from Benatia after massive criticism in recent months. Won nearly every challenge, both in the air and on the ground. A real captain’s performance.
Ghanem Saïss (7)
Solid game from Saïss as well. Doesn’t seem to have a bad game in him. Some iffy positioning when Namibia came through in the first half, but solved it well.
Achraf Hakimi (5)
You can tell he’s still not 100% match-fit. Some awful crossing, but at least he contributed with some overlaps and quick combinations. Expecting more, though.
Youssef Aït Bennasser (6)
Decent showing from Aït Bennasser in his preferred position as deep-lying playmaker. Dictated the game well, especially in the first half, and found his more gifted teammates in good positions with some neat forward passes. More to come!
Mehdi Bourabia (5)
Didn’t seem to find his place on the pitch as one of three in midfield. Fell too deep for long periods of the game and was too sloppy in possession at times. I doubt we’ll see him starting next game.
Mbark Boussoufa (7)
Yes, he’s 34, yes, he’s barely played any football for the last year. But talent like Boussoufa’s doesn’t disappear overnight. It’s just so aesthetically pleasing to watch him play football. His runs in behind the opponent’s midfield is crucial against defensive set-ups and we saw that again this game. Comfortable as always in possession and worked tirelessly throughout the 90 minutes. Won the official Man of the Match award.
Nordin Amrabat (5)
Impossible to take the ball off Amrabat when he’s shielding the ball. Provoked a lot of fouls on the flanks, but the Namibians did relatively well to contain him. Played a lot better in the second half on the right wing, where he’s more comfortable.
Hakim Ziyech (4)
Improved after the break, but the first half was underwhelming. All the pressure seems to have got to him, just like it did at the World Cup. Whenever the ball got to his feet, Ziyech was determined to find a shot immediately, without even setting himself up properly. Most of his efforts rolled comfortably into the goalkeeper’s hands or to a goal-kick. Hopefully he finds his rhythm against Côte d’Ivoire.
Youssef En-Nesyri (4)
To be fair to En-Nesyri, he was completely isolated for most of the game. But should’ve scored on Amrabat’s cross in the second half and still needs to improve in the build-up phase. Not a game to remember for him.
Sofiane Boufal (7)
Brilliant showing from Boufal and it’s great seeing him grab his chance like that instead of whining about not starting. That’s how you make a statement to the manager. Runs for a bit too long with the ball at times, like always, but he has that unique ability of creating opportunities out of nowhere, regardless of how many players the opponent put behind the ball. Hopefully he can keep this up.
Karim El Ahmadi (6)
I thought he did well. Brought a lot more energy to the midfield with his aggressive pressing and protected the defense when one of the centre-backs went up in chase for the winning goal. A good tactical change from Renard.
Khalid Boutaïb (N/A)
Came on to big applause from the visiting Zamalek fans and didn’t do too bad. Wasn’t on long enough to get a fair rating though.