Morocco close with win
Belhanda strike ensures pride is partially salvaged
Last Updated: January 31, 2012 10:38pm
Belhanda: Late consolation for Morocco
Morocco ended their 2012 AFCON campaign with a 1-0 win over Niger at Stade de Libreville on Tuesday.
The Lions of the Atlas, who along with Mena were eliminated from the event before the match, restored some pride through Younes Belhanda's 78th minute winner.
Group C winners Gabon and Tunisia progressed to the quarter-finals at the pair's expense, with the Black Panthers edging the Eagles of Carthage 1-0 on the same night.
Morocco took control early on as Belhanda and Badr El Kaddouri looked dangerous in the final third, with the latter denied by a fine one-on-one stop by Niger goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly just past the half-hour mark.
However, the best chance of the half fell to Niger's Ouwo Moussa Maazou, who rattled the cross bar with a thunderous volley from inside the area after controlling a diagonal pass on his thigh just before the break.
The second stanza started brightly as Niger's Abdoul-Karim Lancina drew a diving save from Mohamed Amsif with a powerful free-kick barely three minutes in.
Morocco then nearly took the lead were it not for another fine one-on-one stop from Kassaly, with Mbark Boussoufa losing out on this occasion in the 58th minute.
Play became a touch scrappy as some robust challenges were traded before Belhanda struck the decider with 12 minutes to go.
The influential attacker fired into the roof of the net from close range after being put through by Marouane Chamakh, who looked like he may have been offside before releasing the pass.
Boussoufa and Mustapha Mranic came close to extending the advantage late on but it need not have mattered as Morocco held on for their only points of a disappointing showing in Gabon.