Group A leaders vs Group B leaders, hosts vs defending champions; Morocco vs Egypt looked like an exciting contest on paper, and it delivered as promised.
We would like to point out that Morocco and Egypt had previously secured a spot at the Summer Olympics in Paris next year, as both teams won their respective semi-final matches. With Olympic qualification already in the bag, both teams set their sights on winning the U23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title.
Morocco, U23 AFCON CHAMPIONS 🇲🇦🏆 pic.twitter.com/5sGFne5BNh
— Ligue 1 English (@Ligue1_ENG) July 8, 2023
It may interest you to know that this was the fourth edition of the U23 AFCON tournament. Bearing that in mind, this wasn't the first rodeo for either team in the final of this competition. On one hand, Morocco hosted the first U23 AFCON tournament, where they lost in the final to Gabon. Likewise, Egypt hosted the 2019 event, winning the title at home. While the Atlas Lions were on the hunt for their first title, the Egyptians were looking to defend their crown.
Level after 90 minutes
It's important to note that Egypt had the best defense in this competition, as they conceded no goals en route to the final. As usual, Rogerio Micale's men opened the scoring on Saturday, thanks to a long range strike from Mahmoud Saber in the 10th minute. However, things didn't turn out too well for the Pyramids FC midfielder; as he received his marching orders a few minutes later, after a bad foul on Abdessamad Ezzalzouli.
Being a goal up and a man down, Egypt had no choice but to sit back and defend their lead. Despite their best efforts however, the Atlas Lions were on level terms a few minutes before half-time. As a result of their one-man advantage, Morocco had more control of the ball, finishing the half with 73 percent of the ball.
Although both teams had their fair share of chances in the second half, neither team could find the back of the net. As expected, the hosts had more of the possession as well as more shots. With both teams tied at the end of regulation time, this match extended extra time.
Morocco's last 12 months:
WC semi-final 💣
Women's AFCON 🥈
U23 AFCON 🏆
U17 AFCON 🥈
Arab Futsal Cup 🏆
CAF Champions League 🥈
CAF Super Cup 🏆
CAF Women's CL 🏆
Beach Soccer AFCON 🥉
Africa's new powerhouse. pic.twitter.com/s2DiDAcugH
— Maghrib Foot (@MaghribFoot) July 8, 2023
Atlas Lions break through in extra time
The first half of extra time was more of the same. More attacking from Morocco and more defending from Egypt. It looked like another fruitless half until the 105th minute, when the Atlas Lions scored from a set-piece. This time, it was Abdessamad Ezzalzouli who assisted Oussama Targhalline, giving the hosts the lead for the first time.
Although Rogerio Micale's men tried to claw their way back into the match, Morocco's defense managed to hold on for 15 more minutes, as they earned their first ever U23 AFCON title.
U23 AFCON awards
It was no surprise that Egypt's Hamza Alaa received the award for best goalkeeper on Saturday night. The Al Ahly shot-stopper kept four clean sheets in five matches, allowing just two goals; he didn't concede a single goal until the final. Also, despite being on the losing team, Egypt's captain Ibrahim Adel was the best player of this competition. The Pyramids FC striker was instrumental to Egypt's success in this tournament.
Ez Abde for Morocco U23 in the U23 Africa Cup of Nations:
– 4 matches
– 3 goals (top goalscorer)
– 3 assists (top assister)
– Assisted the winning goal in the final pic.twitter.com/5R1PZwYSIn
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 8, 2023
Furthermore, Barcelona's Abdessamad Ezzalzouli won the Umbro Golden Boot award, thanks to his three goals and two assists. It's also important to note that Guinea were honoured with the Fair Play award.
This article was most recently revised and updated 3 months ago