South Africa will face a tough test of their progress under coach Hugo Broos when they face Morocco in their opening Group K 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Thursday evening.
The match will kick-off at 9pm CAT at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat.
Morocco may have suffered a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the United States in a friendly meeting last week, but the North Africans have only missed out on two of the last 13 editions of the Afcon and have the pedigree of being one of Africa’s five representatives heading to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Atlas Lions coach Vahid Halihodzic admitted that the defeat to the States was “painful” but believes his team will bounce back.
“The result is painful for us. But overall, we were not so bad because we created a lot of chances and we even missed a penalty,” said Morocco’s coach, who believes the experience will benefit his team for the global showpiece in November-December.
“We need to learn from this defeat and prepare well for the World Cup. I’m confident that we can do better in Qatar.”
South Africa, who have missed out on two of the last three Afcons (and four of the last seven), will be desperate to make a return to the continental finals for the first time since 2019.
The good news for coach Hugo Broos and his team is that neighbours Zimbabwe have been disqualified, meaning they need only finish ahead of one of Morocco or Liberia in Group K to secure passage to Ivory Coast 2023.
Bafana Bafana are still stinging from their last outing – a 5-0 friendly defeat at the hands of World Cup champions France in late March – as well as the failure to progress to the final round of qualifying for Qatar 2022.
“I said already before the qualifiers for the World Cup that if we don’t qualify for that event, it will be a very good experience for those young players. We had players who played their first Bafana Bafana games. Now they’ve had the opportunity to play six games. They learnt a lot from that. You have to start somewhere,” said SA coach Hugo Broos.
He added, “We know the players and the team [Morocco] very well. But they are still a good team, although we have a plan. We will see if that plan will succeed come [Thursday 9 June]. We know what we have to do. And one thing that is important is to have the [right] mentality and confidence. When you go to Morocco with fear it is better that you stay right here at home.”
In head-to-head stats, Morocco and South Africa have met in seven previous matches, dating back as far as 1998. Both the Atlas Lions and Bafana Bafana have claimed two wins, while three games have been drawn.
The teams’ most recent meeting was in the group stage of the 2019 Afcon, with Morocco claiming a 1-0 win – thanks to a late strike from Moubarak Boussoufa – in Cairo in July of that year.
Tunisian referee Sadok Selmi will take charge of the match in Rabat.