Rocky start for Stars

San Pédro, IVORY COAST: TAIFA Stars kicked of their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations campaign on a sour note, with a 3-0 loss to pre-tournament favourites Morocco in San Pédro, Ivory Coast on Wednesday.

In an eventful match played at Laurent Pokou Stadium saw Adel Amrouche charges finishing with a man down after midfielder Novatus Dismas was dismissed with 20 minutes to go.

Goals from Romain Saiss, Azzedine Ounahi and Youssef En Nesyri sealed a convincing win for Atlas Lions to collect maximum points in their opening encounter of Group F.

It was tactical opening 20 minutes with Taifa Stars pushing up quite high to generate danger but lacked cutting edge upfront. They attempted to have little luck trying to play their way through the Morocco midfield and were seeing plenty of long balls.

In the 18th minute, Morocco created a chance through deadly playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who cuts back inside on the edge of the area and whipped in a low cross which Ibrahim Hamad headed clear.

Everything was coming down Morocco’s right at this moment, which wasn’t a surprise with Achraf Hakimi and Ziyech at the top of the game, but Stars defenders stood firm to keep them at bay. By the 25th minute, both teams were still waiting for a first shot on target.

In the 28th minute, a rare foray down the left for Morocco and Ebde Ezzalzouli almost carved open a chance after ducking into the area and reaching the byline, but Stars snuffed out the move.

The goal finally came after a half an hour mark, when Captain Saiss slotted home his nation’s first goal of the tournament after goalkeeper Aishi Manula palmed back into danger Ziyech’s free kick but defenders were in slumber only to let Saiss pounce on the dropped ball.

It should have been 2-0 in the 33rd minute but En-Nesyri’s missed from a sitter. Ziyech whipped in a corner, it was a perfect delivery right onto his team-mate’s head but En-Nesyri’s flicked a header over the bar from five yards out.

It was from this moment when Taifa Stars started to get a bit frustrated, somewhat applying a rough tackle, leading Himidi Mao and Dismas to see yellow for ill-timed sliding tackles on different occasions.

The first half completed with Morocco leading 1-0.

At the restart and in 47th minute Dismas tried an extremely ambitious long-range effort – powering way over the bar from at least 30 yards out.

Taifa Stars looked more energetic in the second half, attempting to defend and pressing theuir opponent but Morocco seemed difficult to break.

Stars attacker Charles M’Mombwa was booked after a brief pushing and shoving with Mohamed Chibi as the referee Alhadji Allaou Mahamat from Chad could’t stand for no nonsense.

The match official, however somewhat got it wrong for showing Dismas a second yellow in 73nd minute, following his challenge on Moroccan midfielder El Khannous. However, the footage showed that Dismas did not catch his opponent. Following the incident Tanzania players protested to the referee’s decision but to no avail.

It was advantage for Morocco, who bagged two more goals 77th when Ounahi combined superbly with a team-mate to slot home from the edge of the area. It was 3-0 up in the 80th minutes when En-Nesyri at the fourth time of asking fired home Ounahi’s perfect cross from the right.

In a nut shell Stars failed to pose too much of a threat. Tanzania missed the last AFCON, and lost all three games of the 2019 tournament.

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