24 January 2013

Cape Verde/Morocco: Atlas Lions Arise Late From Slumber

Photo: CAF
Morocco's Atlas Lions in action against Mozambique (file photo).

Durban — Morocco rose from their slumber in the final 20 minutes to prove the capacity of their star-studded team, but to be held to a draw by Cape Verde is still akin to an embarrassing defeat.

Youssef El Arabi conjured up a 78th minute equaliser to ensure Morocco stayed in the hunt for a quarter-final place, but the Atlas Lions continue to be an enigma.

On paper, they have a team brimming with talent, possibly a little young, but with all the potential to win the tournament. Yet they have limped through two games so far, playing only in patches.

They were just as wasteful at the last Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon but there paid a heavier price, losing their first two games with an unexpected profligacy and being knocked out even before they had completed their first round programme.

Younes Belhanda is representative of this paradox. His gifted play was the catalyst for unfashionable French provincial club Montpellier to win the Ligue 1 title last year and he is supposedly on his way to Inter Milan in the coming days.

But remarkably at this Nations Cup he has made virtually no contribution, seemingly devoid of the drive he displays at club level.

All he has done, in playing time just short of 90 minutes, is manage to pick up two cautions. As a result he now sits out their last group game, the vital meeting with South Africa in Durban on Sunday.

Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi claimed to have forged a squad of talent into a team of talent in his short time in command, but this is patently a boast of no substance. His side still reflects a rampant individualism that ensures they will continue to struggle.

Wednesday’s game was a desperate affair against a team of spoilers. Cape Verde’s fairytale continued, even if it was not pretty. Both teams fouled an incredible 52 times, more than during any other match at the tournament, turning it into a hard-to-watch, stop-start affair.

But Morocco’s desperation did ensure a grandstand finish with the last 10 minutes providing more drama than the 80 that preceded it.

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