Morocco, Tunisia round out African qualifiers

Morocco's Mbark Boussoufa getting a piggyback ride for his part in helping his country reach the World Cup Finals. Morocco's 2-0 win over the Ivory Coast sealed their spot while ruling their opponents out of next year's showpiece event in Russia.
Morocco's Mbark Boussoufa getting a piggyback ride for his part in helping his country reach the World Cup Finals. Morocco's 2-0 win over the Ivory Coast sealed their spot while ruling their opponents out of next year's showpiece event in Russia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JOHANNESBURG • North African nations Morocco and Tunisia took contrasting routes to qualify for next year's World Cup Finals in Russia on Saturday.

Morocco scored twice within five minutes through Nabil Dirar and Medhi Benatia during the opening half to triumph 2-0 in the Ivory Coast and win Group C.

The "Atlas Lions" are going back to the World Cup for the first time since 1998 after finishing with 12 points, having not conceded a goal during the six-match group campaign.

Ivory Coast, who never looked like recovering from the first-half blows, were second with eight points followed by Gabon with six and Mali with four. Only group winners qualified for the Finals.

Morocco coach Herve Renard revealed after the match that Moroccan King Mohammed VI had called to congratulate the team.

"I thank His Majesty for calling me. It's a huge honour," said the Frenchman.

"He wanted to talk to us to pay tribute to everyone. Tonight we are proud of the Moroccan shirt, proud that the Moroccan flag returns to the World Cup. This is the fifth qualification so Morocco is not a small (football) country."

However, violence broke out in central Brussels, which has a big Moroccan population, after the team qualified for the Finals.

Twenty-two police officers were injured after riot police were sent out to control a crowd of about 300 people after the final whistle.

Cars were burned, shops looted and street furniture damaged, police said.

Videos posted on social media showed tense scenes as riot police tried to block off streets to the fans as others chanted joyfully from the steps of the Bourse stock exchange building, a spot commonly used for sports celebrations.

Elsewhere, Tunisia could not break down neighbours Libya in Rades on the outskirts of Tunis and had to settle for a 0-0 draw that was just about enough to see them cross the finishing line first.

Unbeaten Tunisia collected 14 points to book their first World Cup appearance since failing to make it past the group stage in2006.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had 13, Libya four and Guinea three. Senegal had earlier sealed their place in Russia on Friday by winning 2-0 in South Africa.

The other two African qualifiers, Nigeria and Egypt, secured slots last month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'Morocco, Tunisia round out African qualifiers'. Print Edition | Subscribe