Mauritania have edged closer to a second consecutive Africa Cup of Nations appearance after they held Morocco 0-0 in a Group E qualifier at Stade Cheikha Ould Boidiya in Nouakchott on Friday night.
The result sees Al Murabitun reclaim second place on the standings, one point ahead of Burundi and two clear of the Central African Republic.
A win over the latter team next Tuesday will guarantee that Mauritania join Morocco (who top the group and had already secured qualification last year) in claiming a place at Cameroon 2022.
Morocco enjoyed the better chances through the first half, with the likes of Hakim Ziyech and debutant Munir El Haddadi enjoying influence from relatively early on.
Adam Masina, another player making his first appearance for the Atlas Lions, was also keen to impress.
Ziyech teed up a chance for Youssef En Nesyri just before the midway point of the first half, but the Spain-based striker failed to test Mauritania goalkeeper Namori Diaw.
The home side’s gloves-man was called into action by Selim Amallah with just over 10 minutes of the first half left to play, pushing away a well-struck shot which looked destined for the back of the net.
Al Murabitun created relatively few opportunities in attack, though Ahmed Bessam stung the palms of Morocco’s Yassine Bounou just before halftime.
With the game goalless at the break, Morocco opted for a change in midfield at the start of the second half, as Yahya Jabrane made way for the more attack-minded Sofyan Amrabat.
As the game wore on the hosts gained more and more confidence from the solidity of their defence, with centre-backs Diade Diarra and Bakary N’Diaye putting in commanding performances.
Midway through the second half Mauritania freshened up their attack, replacing Bessam and Aboubakar Kamara with Ismael Diakite and Hemeya Tanjy, while a few minutes later En Nesyri let fly with a shot which skewed well wide as Morocco continued to be frustrated.
Tanjy was a particularly effective outlet in attack, bringing energy and additional movement to Al Murabitun, though too often his best work was done too far away from goal to truly threaten Bounou.
🇲🇷 Mauritania 0-0 Morocco 🇲🇦
The Atlas Lions stay top of the group while the home side keep their qualification chances alive sitting second in group E.#TotalAFCONQ2021 | @FRMFOFFICIEL | @ffrim | #TotalAFCON pic.twitter.com/Sp0LGOQ4nQ
— CAF (@CAF_Online) March 26, 2021
Ultimately the sides settled for a share of the spoils, with Morocco satisfied at retaining their unbeaten record and cementing top spot, while Mauritania claimed a valuable point on their path to the Nations Cup.
The teams will complete their Group E campaigns on Tuesday, 30 March, with Morocco hosting Burundi and Mauritania visiting Central African Republic.