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AFP
November 13, 2017

Morocco, Tunisia take different paths to World Cup

Sports

AFP
November 13, 2017

JOHANNESBURG: North African nations Morocco and Tunisia took contrasting routes on Saturday as they qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Morocco scored twice within five minutes through Nabil Dirar and Medhi Benatia during the opening half to triumph 2-0 in the Ivory Coast and win Group C.The “Atlas Lions” are going back to the tournament for the first time since 1998 after finishing with 12 points, having not conceded a goal during the six-match group campaign.

Ivory Coast, who never looked like recovering from the first-half blows, came second with eight points followed by Gabon with six and Mali with four.Tunisia could not break down neighbours Libya in Rades on the outskirts of Tunis and had to settle for a 0-0 draw that was just enough to see them first over the finishing line.With second-placed Democratic Republic of Congo netting twice in stoppage time to defeat Guinea 3-1 in Kinshasa, only one point separated the top two.

Unbeaten Tunisia collected 14 points to book a first World Cup appearance since 2006, DR Congo had 13, Libya four and Guinea three.Senegal sealed a place in Russia on Friday by winning 2-0 in South Africa and the other two African qualifiers, Nigeria and Egypt, secured slots last month.

Ivory Coast had the first chance at a packed 35,000-seat Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny but veteran Gervinho blazed over with only the goalkeeper to beat from inside the box.

It was to prove a costly miss for the home side, who had to win after beginning the match one point behind a Moroccan team coached by former Ivorian handler, Frenchman Herve Renard.The first blow came when an intended cross from Dirar went over an Ivorian defender and a Moroccan attacker and slipped past goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo into the far corner.

Rattled Ivory Coast fell further behind as they failed to cut off a corner and Juventus defender Benatia struck a first-time shot into the net.Belgian coach Marc Wilmots tried to revive the lacklustre Ivorians by introducing Ghislain Konan at half-time and Maxwel Cornet and veteran Salomon Kalou during the second half.

But Morocco comfortably contained the hosts in a match that threatened to boil over at times with Dirar and Crystal Palace flyer Wilfried Zaha wrestling each other to the ground.

Tunisia dominated possession at the Stade Olympique, but unpredictable Libya defended resolutely, creating an increasingly tense atmosphere.

Had Tunisia lost, they would have ceded top place to DR Congo, who finished strongly to overcome Guinea 3-1 at the Stade des Martyrs.

Guinean Ousmane Sidibe conceded an own-goal after 61 minutes and Keita Junior levelled just three minutes after coming off the bench.

Jonathan Bolingi put the Congolese Lions ahead again two minutes into additional time and Neeskens Kebano added a third goal almost immediately.

New Zealand declared themselves “definitely confident” of upsetting Peru in their World Cup qualifying showdown, heartened by a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

As the country toasted keeping Peru scoreless in Wellington on Saturday, coach Anthony Hudson confirmed he expected the side to be at full strength for the return clash in Lima on Wednesday.“In the next couple of days we need to make sure we do everything possible to get our best team on the pitch.”

New Zealand, ranked 122nd in the world, need only a score draw in Lima to be assured of a World Cup finals berth after keeping the 10th-ranked Peru goalless in the first leg.

Meanwhile, The Republic of Ireland and Denmark played out a drab 0-0 draw in the first leg of their World Cup play-off in Copenhagen.

The closest either side came to a goal was when Pione Sisto fired wide in the first half for the hosts, while Yussuf Poulsen saw a 90th-minute header saved by Darren Randolph.

Both sides will be satisfied with the result, as Martin O’Neill’s Irish now know victory in Dublin on Tuesday would secure a first World Cup appearance since 2002, but an away goal for the Danes could prove decisive after this clean sheet. 

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