Football Football

Renard-led Morocco knock holders I. Coast out

Morocco’s Karim El Ahmadi tussles for the ball with Ivory Coast’s Yannick Kessie and Solomon Kalou during an African Cup of Nations match in Oyem, Gabon on January 24, 2017. PHOTO/CAF

OYEM, Gabon, Jan 25- Title-holders the Ivory Coast were dumped out of the Africa Cup of Nations Tuesday after a superb Rachid Alioui goal gave Herve Renard-coached Morocco a 1-0 win in Gabon.

Clinching a quarter-finals place was particularly sweet for Frenchman Renard, the coach of the Ivorians when they won the biennial tournament two years ago.

The blond, bronzed 48-year-old, wearing his lucky white shirt, hopes to become the first coach to win three Cup of Nations titles with three different countries.

He guided outsiders Zambia to glory in 2012 and repeated the feat with perennial underachievers the Ivory Coast three years later.

The winning goal came on 64 minutes from France-based Alioui and set up a last-eight showdown against the Group D winners in Port-Gentil Sunday.

Democratic Republic of Congo beat Togo 3-1 in the other Group C match to top the standings with seven points followed by Morocco (six), Ivory Coast (two) and Togo (one).

As the match kicked off twice champions Ivory Coast knew they had to win while a draw would suffice for Morocco, whose only title came 41 years ago.

The Ivorian Elephants and the Moroccan Atlas Lions were renewing a long rivalry with the last episode a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw in Marrakech two months ago.

Both teams rattled the woodwork during a first half which ended 0-0 after the Ivory Coast dominated possession in the northern town of Oyem.

Moroccan Faycal Fajr struck the crossbar from a free-kick on 25 minutes with his curled right-foot attempt eluding goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.

Rival shot-stopper Munir Mohamedi made a good reflex save eight minutes before half-time to push away a shot from Wilfried Zaha, who was set up by a superb Salomon Kalou pass.

Veteran Kalou went even closer just before the break with a far-post header that beat Mohamedi but went wide of the post.

As the game passed the hour mark the scoreboard operator remained unemployed due to a cagey clash in which even half-chances were scarce.

The deadlock ended, however, with a world-class goal from Alioui.

When the ball was played inside to him, Alioui steered a lofted shot from well outside the box over Gbohouo and into the corner.

With a quarter of the match remaining in a stadium surrounded by rubber plantations, the defending champions had to score at least twice to survive but never looked like doing so.

-Impressive DR Congo ease into quarters-

Democratic Republic of the Congo’s forward Junior Kabananga kicks the ball to score past Togo’s forward Serge Gakpe (L) during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group C football match between Togo and DR Congo in Port-Gentil on January 24, 2017. PHOTO/AFP

Junior Kabananga set DR Congo on their way to a comfortable 3-1 win against Togo in Port-Gentil on Tuesday to clinch an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals spot.

Kabananga’s opener came just before the half-hour mark and Neeskens Kebano ran through to increase the lead in the 54th minute.

Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba pulled one back for Togo but a Paul-Jose Mpoku free-kick with 10 minutes left completed the scoring as an impressive Congolese side secured first place in Group C.

They will now return to Oyem in northern Gabon for a quarter-final on Sunday, while Togo are eliminated after failing to win a game.

Morocco also go through after a 1-0 win over the Ivory Coast which knocked out the reigning champions.

At the beginning of the night DR Congo, semi-finalists in 2015, knew a draw would be enough for them to clinch their place in the last eight while Togo had no choice but to win.

Togo coach Claude Le Roy left out veteran goalkeeper Kossi Agassa, judging him to be still too fragile mentally after his house in Lome was vandalised by fans who blamed him for the team’s defeat to Morocco on Friday.

Baba Tchagouni got the nod in goal but he lasted just 23 minutes before having to be substituted after aggravating an injury suffered while making an early clearance.

On came Cedric Mensah, who plays in the French lower leagues, and he was soon picking the ball out of his net.

The impressive Chancel Mbemba slipped a pass through for the giant Kabananga, and he outpaced and outmuscled Serge Gakpe before slotting low past the ‘keeper.

Kabananga almost scored again on the stroke of half-time, but his header from a Kebano corner looped up towards the far corner only to come back off the post.

The Leopards were only made to wait until nine minutes into the second half before increasing their lead, however.

A first-time hoof downfield by Marcel Tisserand completely caught out the Togolese defence and found Kebano in an onside position. He had the time to control before lobbing the ball over the stranded Mensah.

DR Congo then thought they had scored again but Jonathan Bolingi’s effort was disallowed for offside.

Instead Togo gave hope to their sizeable support in the Gabonese port city when they pulled a goal back just past the midway point in the second half.

Skipper Emmanuel Adebayor and Floyd Ayite combined to set up Laba and the substitute finished low at the near post.

But DR Congo restored their two-goal advantage through Panathinaikos midfielder Mpoku, who came off the bench to curl a fine free-kick over the wall and in off the underside of the bar, the ball just crossing the line.