RABAT - Morocco became the first team on Friday to qualify for the 2023 African Cup of Nations after a 2-2 draw between South Africa and Liberia, the other two teams in their qualifying group.
The Atlas Lions will make their 19th official appearance in the pan-African football championship, which will be held in the Ivory Coast early next year.
The Moroccan team won each of their Group K matches against their South African and Liberian counterparts 2-1 and 2-0 respectively, sending them to the top of their qualifying group table.
All matches featuring Zimbabwe, the final team in Group K, were cancelled after their football federation was suspended by football’s governing body FIFA for interference by the Zimbabwean government in the country’s football league.
Other Arab nations also enjoyed victories in the qualifying round on Friday. Egypt saw off Malawi 2-0 at home, with team captain and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah netting the opening goal - his 50th for his country.
Tunisia defeated Libya 3-0 at Tunis’ Hammadi Agrebi stadium in the North African derby, giving the Carthage Eagles a comfortable lead in their qualification group.
Morocco will be vying for glory in the African football championship, following a successful run at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where the Atlas Lions finished fourth - the first Arab and African team to do so.
The team’s remarkable stint at the World Cup impressed football fans and pundits alike, who hailed a number of players and coach Walid Regragui as world-class stars.
Morocco have routinely underperformed at the African tournament however, and have only won the competition once, in 1976.
In a post-World Cup interview with Moroccan media, Regragui said: "In a year, we have a continental competition, we want to represent Morocco as high as possible. We know that soccer has no memory, so we will have to move forward".
"We want to maintain the same level and progress to the best. That's why this winning mindset must be maintained," he added.
Morocco, ranked 11th worldwide, will next face football royalty Brazil in a highly anticipated friendly match on Saturday at the Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier.