Morocco head coach Vahid Halilhodzic is refusing to underestimate opponents Malawi ahead of their clash in the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Tuesday (Morocco 1/3, Draw 18/5, Malawi 12/1 – Match Result).
There was an element of disruption to Morocco’s build-up to the tournament, as Halilhodzic opted to omit Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech from his squad. However, despite his absence, the Atlas Lions were one of the most impressive teams during the group stage, collecting seven points en route to topping Group C.
Those performances have increased talk that the North Africans can win AFCON for the first time since 1976 (Morocco 5/1 to win AFCON) and expectations will certainly be high ahead of their last 16 clash with a Malawi side that have made it through to the knockout stages for the very first time.
Over 100 places separate the two sides in the FIFA world rankings, but Halilhodzic does not believe Morocco should be regarded as favourites for the match.
“I don’t agree with anyone who has us as favourites,” the Bosnian told reporters. “We’re up against a team who play good football and have great desire.
“Look at the history. In the last Afcon Morocco went home at exactly this stage. There are no small or easy opponents in Africa.”
Morocco should be boosted by the availability of star full-back Achraf Hakimi of Paris Saint-Germain, who has reportedly shaken off a knock, although Queens Park Rangers playmaker Ilias Chair remains a significant doubt.
Malawi defender Limbikani Mzava missed the group stage draw with Senegal and he is again rated doubtful for the 19:00 kick off in Yaounde.
The 16:00 match will see pre-tournament favourites Senegal take on Cape Verde (Senegal 3/5, Draw 12/5, Cape Verde 13/2 – Match Result).
Senegal (7/2 to win AFCON) have yet to hit their stride at the finals, registering just one win and one goal during the group stage, with the pressure mounting on boss Aliou Cisse to deliver the Lions of Teranga their first AFCON title.
Cisse will have to do without Cheikhou Kouyate for Tuesday’s match as the Crystal Palace midfielder is suspended, while Cape Verde could hand a start to Garry Rodrigues, who came off the bench to score in their group stage draw with hosts Cameroon last time out.