FIFA World Cup Qualifying: Ivory Coast 1 Morocco 1
By Football News
Ivory Coast progressed to the FIFA World Cup play-offs despite drawing 1-1 with Morocco at Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny on Saturday.
Due to already being five points ahead of their opponents with one match to play, Ivory Coast had already guaranteed a place in the final stage of the African qualification phase, with Morocco simply playing to consolidate their position in second place.
Youssef El-Arabi gave the away side the lead early in the second half but the Ivorians salvaged a point as Didier Drogba buried a penalty.
Sabri Lamouchi made vast changes for the visit of Morocco as only Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Yaya Toure and Boubacar Barry kept their places from their last qualifier against Tanzania in June, while Drogba and Christian Romaric returned to the starting 11.
The visitors' team had a similar look to the one that beat Gambia in their last competitive match three months ago, with just three changes, as Mohamed Oulhaj, Zouhair Feddal and Omar El Kaddouri replaced Ahmed Kantari, Kamel Chafni and Abderrazak Hamdallah.
It was the home side who had the first chance as Romaric's long-range effort was palmed away by Mohamed Amsif. Soon after, however, Morocco should have taken the lead.
Zakarya Bergdich was allowed space on the left and he delivered a pinpoint cross into the centre that Abdelaziz Barrada volleyed at goal, but Barry was equal to the test, scrambling the ball away at the second attempt.
Rachid Taoussi's men enjoyed an encouraging opening 20 minutes, but they soon found themselves having to withstand heavy pressure as Drogba had a shot cleared off the line following excellent play by Gervinho and then the former Chelsea man blasted a volley over the bar from just inside the area.
Proceedings calmed momentarily but a few moments before half-time the Ivory Coast attack burst into life as Drogba played Gervinho into the left side of the area, but the Roma man hit his shot straight at Amsif when one-on-one.
The second half started evenly but thanks to some poor Ivory Coast defending, Morocco took the lead in the 53rd minute. El-Arabi exploited a huge gap in the hosts' defence and collected El Kaddouri's through pass before firing a low shot past Barry from just outside the area.
Eventually, the hosts were given a lifeline as El Kaddouri handled the ball inside his own penalty area and Drogba made no mistake from the spot as he stroked it into the bottom left corner.
With only a few minutes remaining, Amsif was called into action again as he acrobatically saved a Kalou header, ensuring that Morocco left with a point.