Morocco came through a tough challenge against a young Saudi Arabia side, with the defending champions needing a goal from the spot kick to emerge winners in their last Group C match of the FIFA Arab Cup at the Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday.
Morocco hasn’t lost a match in 2021 and have impressed in the Arab Cup so far, posting a pair of 4–0 victories over Palestine and Jordan in the first two group matches. But on Tuesday the gritty Saudi boys denied them a strike at the goal for major part of the match.
However, despite the heroics of the Saudi goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi and the overall compactness of the Saudi team, the superior tactical prowess of Hussine Ammouta’s men eventually got the better of them. With the loss Saudi Arabia’s slim chance of making the quarter-final also came to an end.
The rookie Green Falcons, made up of Under-23 players, could only manage one point from three matches to finish third in the group. Jordan, who beat Palestine 5-1 yesterday, finished as the second best team in the group with six points and made the last eight. Palestine also ended with just a point.
Both teams looked to be heading in at the break 0-0 until goalkeeper Zaid al-Bawardi brought down Karim El-Berkaoui inside the area. Nobody could disagree with the penalty decision and the Al Raed forward dusted himself down and fired home a perfect spot-kick into the corner, just past the fingertips of a goalkeeper who almost made up for his mistake.
The successful penalty shot was the last action of the half and a frustrating end for the Saudi players who worked so hard to keep out the opposition.
That would be the only goal of the evening, although the second-half was also intense as the first. As the minutes ticked by it became increasingly apparent that they were not going to get the two goals they needed, especially when right-back Ali Majrashi was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy tackle with 11 minutes remaining to reduce Saudi Arabia to 10 men.
With the stakes far lower than in the previous two games, Morocco having already qualified for the quarter-finals, Ali Mhamdi replaced Anas Zniti as the goalkeeper. The Atlas Lions gave it their all to keep a perfect record in the group stages and emerged with the team to beat.