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El Arabi to Morocco’s rescue

MOROCCO-VERDEDURBAN, South Africa, January 24 – Substitute Youssef El Arabi spared Morocco blushes with a late equaliser in a 1-1 Africa Cup of Nations Group A draw against minnows Cape Verde Wednesday.

Spain-based El Arabi finished off an Abdelaziz Barrada cross to cancel out the lead Platini gave the tiny island state 35 minutes into the first half with a chip over goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri.

After coming off second best for long spells, Morocco ended the game strongly and a flashing El Arabi header from a corner almost snatched victory for the Atlas Lions.

Hosts South Africa defeated Angola 2-0 in the first half of a double-header that lifted them to the top of the table with four points. Cape Verde and Morocco have two points each and Angola one with one round left.

Coaches Luis Antunes and Rachid Taoussi made two changes each to the teams that had the better of listless goalless draws againt South Africa and Angola respectively in the first series of group games four days ago.

Gege and Julio Tavares came into the Blue Sharks starting line-up at the expense of Carlitos and Heldon while the Lions preferred Zakarya Bergdich and Younes Belhanda to Abdelhamid El Kaoutari and Adil Hermach.

Although four places above Morocco in the FIFA world rankings, Cape Verde started the match as underdogs, but the tag clearly was not worrying them as they had the better of the first half exchanges to lead 1-0 at half-time.

Morocco took an age to organise a defensive wall midway through the half with captain Lamyaghri almost hoarse after screaming so many instructions to his team-mates.

His appeals fell on deaf ears as Ryan Mendes stepped up to drill a free-kick past the wall only for the veteran shot-stopper to push the ball away two handed before it was cleared.

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However, Lamyaghri was helpless to prevent the islanders taking a shock lead on 35 minutes as Karim El Ahmadi gave away possession in midfield, Mendes burst forward and Platini chipped a perfectly timed pass into the net.

Anxious Taoussi rang the second-half changes, bringing on El Arabi, Chahir Belghazouani and Kamel Chafni within 20 minutes of the restart, while Belhanda was among those benched.

Belhanda, a French Ligue 1 championship winner with Montpellier last season, was yellow-carded for going into a tackle with his studs showing, and his second caution of the tournament meant an automatic one-match suspension.

Cape Verde replaced Platini and Mendes with Roni and Heldon and the slowness with which the substitutions were made indicated that the Sharks were shutting up shop in an attempt to retain the advantage.

But Morocco were not giving up and Barrada created the equaliser with 12 minutes left, darting down the right and cutting the ball back for El Arabi to score with a right-footed shot that gave goalkeeper Vozinho no chance.

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