Cape Verde gains second point as it holds Morocco
Cape Verde pulled off its second surprising result of the African Cup of Nations, and did host South Africa a big favor, as it held Morocco to 1-1 at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Wednesday.
Although Cape Verde was unable to hold onto the lead provided by a 36th-minute goal from Luis Soares, a second draw was another stunner by a team from a tiny island nation with a population of just half a million.
Halftime substitute Youssef El Arabi spared some of Morocco's blushes when he turned in Abdelaziz Barrada's clinical cutback 12 minutes from time.
But the Atlas Lions next face a must-win clash with South Africa, which beat Angola 2-0 in the day's earlier Group A game at the same venue, if they are to secure qualification for the next round.
Many of the South African fans had drifted away from the stadium to celebrate their side's victory, which has put it in firm control of Group A.
However, Cape Verde, playing in its first African Cup, gave itself every chance of reaching the second round going into its final group game against Angola on Sunday.
''We believe that we have a good team. If you compare us with Morocco, we are on the same level,'' said Cape Verde captain Fernando Neves.
The islanders dominated the first half, with Carlos Tavares, Ryan Mendes and Soares all forcing good saves from Nadir Lamyaghri before Soares beat the Moroccan goalkeeper.
Soares, nicknamed Platini after his French football hero Michel Platini, was put through on goal by a clever pass from Mendes, but still needed a deft chip to find the back of the net and spark a celebration that included most of the Cape Verde squad.
Moroccan coach Rachid Taoussi replaced striker Noureddine Amrabat with El Arabi at halftime, and made two further substitutions in the next 20 minutes, but Cape Verde held firm and Moroccan frustration grew.
With some robust tackling and a tight defensive line, the Blue Sharks did not allow their opposition to gain any fluidity and continually caught them offside.
And where Cape Verde was well organized and kept its discipline, the Moroccans were sloppy and prone to squabbling both amongst themselves and with the referee.
''I realized that we didn't take Cape Verde as seriously as we should have, so we played in an irresponsible way,'' said Taoussi. ''There is a difference in the way we played and the way we planned for this game.
''We made a lot of mistakes tonight. It took a bit of time for our players to catch the rhythm of this game. The Moroccan people will be disappointed with the way we played in the first half. But we still have another three points to play for.''
Morocco finally found some focus in the final quarter, and forced an equalizer through El Arabi, yet it was Cape Verde which came closest to sneaking a winning goal in the final minutes when substitute Heldon Ramos tested Lamyaghri with a shot that was well placed but lacked power.
The result leaves both teams on two points with a game to play, but the underdog's tail is up and momentum is on its side.