Morocco will defend their African Nations Championship (CHAN) title against Mali in Sunday’s final in Yaounde after the holders thrashed Cameroon 4-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final.
The Moroccans were simply too good for the hosts, as a double from Soufiane Rahimi either side of goals from Soufiane Bouftini and Mohammed Ali Bemammer secured a comprehensive win.
“It was a little difficult for us from the start, but things got better when we scored the first goal,” said Morocco coach Houcine Ammouta, whose side are the first to reach successive CHAN finals.
Bouftini opened the scoring in Limbe when Cameroon goalkeeper Haschou Kerrido suffered a moment to forget, dropping a free-kick at the feet of his opponent just five yards out.
Rahimi doubled the lead six minutes before the break as Morocco carved open a Cameroon defence in disarray as he slid home a fine lay-off from Abdelilah Hafidi to become the CHAN’s top scorer.
Raja Casablanca striker Rahimi netted his fifth of the tournament after 74 minutes as Cameroon’s defence gifted him the chance with a wayward pass from a free-kick deep in their own half that was pounced upon and expertly slotted in from 30 yards.
Ten minutes from time, Bemmamer sealed the rout with a goal that was allowed by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) even though the midfielder appeared to be offside.
“Nothing seemed to work us,” said Cameroon coach Ndtoungou Mpile Martin. “Morocco committed less errors.”
The North Africans secured the title on home soil in 2018 when beating Nigeria 4-0 in the final.
Earlier in the day, goalkeeper Djigui Diarra and Mamadou Coulibaly were the penalty heroes as Mali beat Guinea after the first semi-final ended goalless after an evenly-balanced 120 minutes at Douala’s Japoma Stadium.
Mali will be in the CHAN final for a second time, and looking to improve on their 3-0 defeat to DR Congo in 2016.
After both sides scored their first four penalties each, Mali keeper – and captain – Diarra set up the win by saving Guinea’s fifth from Morlaye Sylla, who had been man of the match three times at the tournament.
The stop meant that Mamadou Coulibaly’s successful spot kick took Mali to the final, where they will try to become the first West African side to win the tournament, while Guinea failed in the semi-final stage for a second time after their 2016 exit.
The match had started with some tough tackling, forcing Mali to make two substitutions in the opening period – the first of which came after just one minute.
Guinea created the better chances in the first half with the best falling to Yakhouba Gnagna Barry, who had topped the scoring charts before Wednesday’s semi-finals started.
His first was a shot from eight yards out which was well-saved by Diarra after 13 minutes and Barry thought he had scored after 25 minutes as he was put through on goal and lashed home only for the offside flag to be raised, a decision confirmed by VAR.
Mali started the second half with more intent and some good runs down the flanks, but there was no-one in the box to get on the end of the crosses.
On the hour, Guinea’s Morlaye Sylla forced Diarra to push a long-range free-kick over the bar while Mali’s Moussa Kone will feel he should have done better with an overhead kick 18 minutes from time, failing to hit the target with the Guinea keeper Moussa Camara stranded.
Extra-time was balanced as both sides struggled in the final third, resorting instead to trying their luck from distance.
Guinea will rue a close-range miss by Mamadouba Bangoura with just five minutes left and although they brought on replacement keeper Sekouba Camara for penalties in the dying seconds, the gamble did not pay off.
While Guinea face a Cameroon looking to restore pride in Douala on Saturday, Yaounde’s Ahmadou Ahidjou Stadium will host the final the following day as Morocco try to become the second team, after DR Congo, to win the CHAN twice.