Shock Morocco, the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists, defeated 10-man Tanzania 3-0 in the first match of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday, while Zambia, the 2012 winners, held the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Captain Romain Saiss, Azzedine Ounahi, and Youssef En-Nesyri scored for Morocco at the Ivorian beach city of San-Pedro, while Tanzania’s Novatus Miroshi was sent off.
Morocco, an African powerhouse for decades, is pursuing just its second Cup of Nations victory, 48 years after winning the trophy in Ethiopia.
Morocco rose to worldwide notoriety little over a year ago in Qatar, when they became the first African World Cup semi-finalists, defeating Spain and Portugal along the way.
Morocco’s triumph against Group F outsiders Tanzania was expected, given they are rated 13th in the world, 108 places higher than the Taifa Stars.
Morocco started with seven of the players that started the 2-0 World Cup semi-final defeat to France in Qatar.
There were three La Liga players, two from the Premier League and Ligue 1, and two from Saudi Pro League clubs.
This contrasted significantly with Tanzania, whose lineup featured Tarryn Allarakhia from English fifth-tier club Wealdstone.
The winger battled in the blazing heat and was substituted after 38 minutes, when Morocco was already ahead.
Hakim Ziyech, who is on loan from Chelsea to Galatasaray, hoisted a free kick over the defensive wall, and when custodian Aisha Manula failed to hold it, Saiss converted.
Tanzania’s chances of scoring an equaliser were dashed with 20 minutes left when Miroshi fouled Ounahi and was sent off for a second caution.
‘On a Mission’
On 77 minutes, Ounahi completed a great move to make it 2-0, and soon after, En-Nesyri converted a low cross for a goal that was confirmed as onside after a VAR review.
“We’re focused, we’re on a mission here, and we have a status to live up to,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said.
“People are waiting for us to deliver, but we are keeping our feet on the ground and we respected Tanzania in this game.”
The rewards were split in the second match of the day in the same group, which was played at the same stadium named for the late Ivorian footballer Laurent Pokou.
Kings Kangwa gave Zambia the lead halfway through the first half as Congolese custodian Lionel Mpasi raced out of his area and was unable to return to position in time.
However, Yoane Wissa, who has four goals in the English Premier League this season for Brentford, converted Cedric Bakambu’s low centre to make it 1-1 before the half-hour mark, and that was the final score.
Congo believed they had gained a penalty just after the hour mark when the Ethiopian referee determined that Tandi Mwape had blocked Arthur Masuaku’s cross with his arm.
However, the judgement was rightly reversed after a review, with the official seeing that Mwape had made the block with his chest.
Zambia, led by Avram Grant, were making their return to the AFCON after missing the previous three editions, and they were hoping for their first victory since winning the title against the odds in 2012.
Morocco will face the Congolese on Sunday, followed by Zambia’s match against Tanzania.
All sides have already played once in the Cup of Nations, which begins on Thursday with a triple-header in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic hub.
At 1400 GMT, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau will square off at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium, followed by a heavyweight showdown between Group A opponents Nigeria and hosts Ivory Coast.
That will be followed by a Group B encounter at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium between Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, the record seven-time African winners, and a Ghana team suffering after their opening loss to Cape Verde.