The final match in the round of 16 at the Africa Cup of Nations will feature Morocco against South Africa at Stade de San Pedro on Tuesday night.
Widely considered as the tournament’s strongest contenders before it began, Morocco are aiming for their second AFCON title in history.
The Atlas Lions started well in their opening match, defeating Tanzania by a convincing 3-0 margin. However, they faced a setback in their second game, with a frustrating 1-1 draw against DR Congo, before finishing off the group stage with a 1-0 win over Zambia.
Morocco finished the group stage with seven points, four ahead of second-placed Congo DR, and now they will look to defeat South Africa for a place in the next round.
South Africa is a familiar opponent for Morocco, as they faced each other twice during the qualifying series for this tournament, with both teams winning once.
The Atlas Lions have reached the quarter-finals in two of the last three AFCON editions, and they aim to go all the way to match their best performance, which was winning the trophy in 1976.
Walid Regragui, who was absent from the bench in the win over Zambia, will return on Tuesday after CAF lifted the ban imposed on him following an incident in the aftermath of their group game against DR Congo.
South Africa secured their place in the round of 16 by finishing second in Group E with four points, level on points with third-placed Namibia but with a superior goal difference.
Hugo Broos’s side started their AFCON campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss to Mali. However, they bounced back with a convincing 4-0 win over Namibia before concluding the group stage with a goalless draw against Tunisia.
Bafana Bafana have reached the quarter-finals in two of their last three AFCON appearances, and they will aim to replicate that feat when they face Morocco.
In their head-to-head record, South Africa hold a slight advantage, with three victories from eight meetings, along with two losses and three draws.
However, the Atlas Lions claimed victory the last time these teams met at AFCON. That was their only win in five encounters between the two sides in the tournament’s history, with South Africa winning twice and the other two matches ending in draws.
Morocco Africa Cup of Nations Form: W D W
Morocco Form (All Competitions): W W W W D W
South Africa Africa Cup of Nations Form: L W D
South Africa Form (All Competitions): W L D L W D
Noussair Mazraoui remains doubtful for Morocco as he has not played in the tournament yet. However, Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are expected to start as the center-back pairing.
Youssef En-Nesyri, who missed the win over Zambia, is set to return to the starting XI and lead the line on Tuesday.
South Africa have no fresh injury concerns after their match against Tunisia. Given their strong performance last time out, it wouldn’t be surprising if Broos named an unchanged lineup.
Evidence Makgopa, who is still searching for his first goal in the tournament, is likely to lead the attack again, supported by Percy Tau, Themba Zwane, and Thapelo Morena.
Possible Starting Lineups
Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Chibi;
Ziyech, Ounahi, Amallah, Boufal;
South Africa: (4-2-3-1)
Mudau, Xulu, Mvala, Modiba;
Zwane, Tau, Morena;
Prediction: Morocco 3-1 South Africa
While South Africa may put up a strong fight, the difference in quality between them and Morocco will ultimately be decisive. The Atlas Lions have shown composure throughout the tournament and we expect another assured performance from them.