FUJAIRAH // Ivory Coast progressed to the quarter-finals of the Under 17 World Cup after defeating African neighbours Morocco, aided by two costly blunders committed by Moroccan defender Mohamed Saoud.
The last time the two sides met, in April’s continental qualifiers, Ivory Coast completed a 2-1 win in Casablanca, and they never looked like losing in the Northern Emirates. The West Africans claimed an early lead when, in the fourth minute, Saoud pulled down Meite Yakou inside the area and Franck Kessie, the Ivorian captain, stepped up to fire his team ahead.
Morocco, making their first appearance at U17 level, had dominated their group with a fleet, tricky forward line of Younes Bnou Marzouk and Walid Sabbar. Ivory Coast, however, having taken the lead, stifled the Moroccan attack from the opening exchanges, limiting them to just two shots at goal in the first 45 minutes.
Four minutes into the second half, Ivory Coast thought they should have had another penalty. Saoud appeared to tug back Yakou once again, but this time, the referee was unconvinced. The crowd had slowly grown to 4,172 as Moroccans finished their workdays, then flooded into the stadium to provide increasingly vocal support, which seemed to inspire their compatriots on the pitch.
When Marzouk, the young striker on the books of Juventus, collected the ball on the edge of the opposition penalty area in the 60th minute, he quickly shifted to his right foot and fired an unstoppable drive that smashed the inside of the post on its way in, sending the Moroccan fans into a frenzy.
It did not last, however.
With 15 minutes remaining, it was Saoud again who was left with his head in his hands. A hopeful ball over the top was bungled by the centre-half and Junior Ahissan pounced.
Collecting the loose ball, the Ivorian midfielder took a touch, found space and had the ball in the back of the net almost before Belkouch could react.
As Ahissan wheeled away in celebration, he put his finger to his lips. And Morocco’s fans fell silent.
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