Saiss and Morocco into AFCON quarter-finals

Romain Saiss and Morocco secured their place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals after a hard-fought victory over Malawi in the first knockout stage round.

Having been rested for their final group game – a 2-2 draw with Gabon last week – Saiss was back leading out his country in the last 16 of the competition, as the Atlas Lions had to fight from behind to overcome a stubborn Malawi outfit.

There was nothing the Wolves defender could do to prevent Malawi from taking the lead early in the contest after Frank Mhango hit a speculative left-footed effort from 40 yards out, which caught out the Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou and curled into the top corner of the net.

Morroco piled pressure on in an attempt to level the scores, with Achraf Hakimi testing Malawi keeper Charles Thom twice; once from a free-kick which the stopped palmed away and one low drive which Thom diverted onto the post.

Saiss’ men got themselves back in the contest when Thom let a header from Youssef En-Nesyri slip through his hands two minutes into first-half stoppage time. While Sofiane Boufal and Ryan Mmaee missed opportunities to see their side take the lead.

Morocco eventually found themselves ahead for the first time in the game when Hakimi curled an unstoppable free-kick into the top right corner, while En-Nesyri could have put the game beyond doubt moments later but he could only divert his effort wide of the post – via a heavy deflection.

However, that was enough for Morocco to progress into the quarter-finals of the competition, with Saiss’ side set to face either Ivory Coast or Egypt for a place in the semis.