JOHANNESBURG – Two victories and two draws with no defeats. That is the impressive record South Africa boast against Morocco at the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
And so as they go into tonight’s final Group D clash of the 2019 edition of the biennial continental showpiece against the Atlas Lions, Stuart Baxter’s men will have a proud record to not only defend but be inspired by.
Bafana and Morocco’s Afcon rivalry dates back to 1998 when South Africa went to Burkina Faso as defending champions following that glorious tournament on home soil two years earlier.
Though under a new coach and with a few changes to the squad, Bafana still oozed confidence and young Benni McCarthy played a key role in helping them make it past the group stage following a stuttering start.
In the quarter-finals, Jomo Sono’s men met a Moroccan side that had topped their group without a loss.
But Bafana booked their place in the semi-finals thanks to a stunning goal by David Nyathi to win 2-1.
Nyathi, a leftback with a penchant for speedy forays into the opposition area, made his trademark runs forward and brilliantly sent his marker slipping on his butt inside the box. He then unleashed a thunderous shot with his weaker right foot to slot the ball home into the roof of the net.
McCarthy had opened the scoring earlier on with a tap-in after Brendan Augustine had headed the ball back into the box following a good save by the Moroccan goalkeeper to push out Helman Mkhalele’s attempt.
Bafana went on to finish runners-up to Egypt at that tournament.
Four years later in Mali, the two countries met again - this time in a do-or-die final group match.
Percy Tau enjoying an ice bath at Aero Sports Club in Cairo on Saturday.— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) June 29, 2019
Tau was named man of the match in South Africa's 1-0 over Namibia on Friday. pic.twitter.com/CmpbE1djsw
Both sides were coached by Portuguese nationals, Bafana by Carlos Quieroz and Morocco by Humberto Coelho.
The match was no contest as South Africa overwhelmed their opponents with pace and guile. Sibusiso Zuma opened the scoring three minutes before the break and it was 2-0 three minutes post the recess courtesy of a Thabo Mngomeni strike. Before Morocco could make sense of what was happening, Siyabonga Nomvethe was making it 3-0 some four minutes after Mngomeni’s goal.
Rachid Benmaahmoud’s penalty on 77 minutes was nothing more than a consolation for the Atlas Lions.
The two nations subsequently played two draws in the tournament - 1-1 in 2004 and 2-2 in 2013.
This time around, Morocco are guaranteed progression to the next round even if they were to lose today. But in Herve Renard they have a coach who will want to take a perfect record into the knockout stages while Moroccans will love nothing more than to bring an end to their suffering against Bafana.
Having lost their unbeaten record to Cote d’Ivoire in their opening match of this tournament, Bafana will be wary of going into the clash against Morocco banking too much on history.@Tshiliboy