2023 AFCON: South Africa set their sights on the final after Morocco upset

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Image caption: Teboho Mokoena put the gloss on South Africa’s surprise victory over Morocco, bridging a gap of 53 places in the world rankings

South Africa coach Hugo Broos has told his players to “dream of the final” after their last-16 victory against 2023 Africa Cup of Nations favourites Morocco.

Evidence Makgopa and Teboho Mokoena scored the goals in a 2-0 win over the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists on Tuesday as the tournament in Ivory Coast delivered its latest upset.

Bafana Bafana will face Cape Verde in the quarter-finals on Saturday (20:00 GMT), having opened their campaign with a 2-0 defeat by Mali but then secured qualification from a group that saw 2004 champions Tunisia knocked out.

“The most important thing is that you can grow in a tournament when you become better and better,” said Broos.

“It’s very good in a tournament that South Africa does it. We eliminated Tunisia. And we were ready to have the confrontation with Morocco.

“If you can win that, then the confidence is so big that we dream now of the final.”

Belgian coach Broos has experience of lifting the Afcon trophy himself, with the 71-year-old guiding Cameroon to the title in 2017.

South Africa, who had missed out on the 2021 finals, beat neighbours Namibia 4-0 in their second group-stage match before a goalless draw with Tunisia saw them progress at the expense of the North Africans.

Morocco topped their group and were widely expected to sweep aside Bafana Bafana, given their historic run to the last four at the World Cup finals and their status as Africa’s top-ranked side.

The Atlas Lions are 13th in the world rankings – 53 places above their last-16 opponents.

“It was a difficult game, Morocco is still a difficult side and it does not take away how good they are that we won,” South Africa forward Percy Tau said.

“We’ve always been a serious team but for us to win against Morocco and [draw with] Tunisia and to get out of our group, it also gives us a good reputation.

“It does not take away how difficult this tournament is. And that the next game is still going to be also difficult.”

‘Not the end of the world’ for Morocco

Image caption: Morocco coach Walid Regragui returned from a touchline ban against South Africa but his country’s wait to add to their 1976 continental title continues

It was no great surprise when Makgopa slotted home the opener just after the break, following a first half in which Morocco failed to register a shot on target in a tense battle in San Pedro.

The Atlas Lions missed a chance to draw level from the penalty spot in the 85th minute when Achraf Hakimi hit the bar.

The North Africans then had Sofyan Amrabat sent off in the dying stages of the match for a professional foul, which handed Mokoena the chance to score one of the goals of the tournament so far from the resulting free-kick just outside the area.

Added to that, Morocco coach Walid Regragui had declared the need to win Afcon for only the second time in the nation’s history to confirm they were the best team on the continent following their semi-final appearance in Qatar.

“It is not the end of the world. We are not the only ones,” said Regragui, whose country will host the next Nations Cup finals.

“Lots of the favourites have been eliminated. We will come back stronger.”

The three most successful teams in the history of the competition, Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana, with 16 titles between them, had all departed before South Africa’s surprise victory.

Along with the exit of Senegal on penalties on Monday, all five of Africa’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers have been knocked out of the tournament.

It has been the year of the underdog at this Afcon and the growth of the game on the continent is there to see through the nations that are achieving success – along with the number of African-based players balancing out the usual swath of European-based stars.

“Local players can be good also when they are ready to play a level higher,” said Broos, whose squad is overwhelmingly made up of players from South Africa’s domestic league.

“This is what’s happened with South Africa.

“We are not playing anymore like South Africans. The style is different now. We play a little bit more, or try to play a little bit more, like Europeans. And that helps us a lot.”

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