The opening day of the 10th CAF U-17 Championship finals taking place in Morocco produced nine goals from the double header matches played at Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca. Morocco scored four in defeating Gabon 4-1 while in the second match Tunisia got the better of Botswana by a 3-1 score line.
The Atlas Cubs made up of players largely from football academies in Belgium, France, Netherlands and Spain has huge expectations on them from many and as coach Abdellah Elidrissi put it after the match , "they had never played together a game against another national team."
It however did not really look that way at the beautifully manicured grass at Mohamed V Stadium where the Cubs did not take long to strike against the Baby Panthers of Gabon. Morocco’s first goal came in the seventh minute through Hamza Sakhi and three minutes later they had a second.
The home side was dominating the game with team captain Nabil Jaadi at the center of the majority of Morocco’s good play. The Atlas Cubs were passing the ball, moving and creating chances with character and precision much to the delight of the crowd.
The Moroccans played with cohesion and solidity and unity that defied a team playing together in a competitive match for the first time. After dominating the first period in the second half the Gabonese two goals down upped the ante and competed more.
But the next goal came from the Moroccans through Bnou Marzouk with a header from a free-kick. According to the coach “We wanted to score more goals and not concede but in the end you have to be happy with today’s work, performance and result. Our target remains reaching the semi-finals and it’s a good start towards that goal”
Gabon whose passing game was growing and improving as the game wore on pulled one back when their captain Guy Reteno was fouled in the box and up stepped Eyamba Obouoyi to score the spot kick.
Moroccans made it four in the added on time when Jaadi dribbled through before slotting past the keeper. Meanwhile the Baby Panthers of Gabon seemed to have been shocked by Morocco’s fast and furious start to the game and did not quite recover from the quick and early punches.
Gabon coach Rigobert Nzamba said after the match "We succumbed to stage fright and did not play to our capabilities at all, yes, my youthful side did not handle the occasion of playing in U-17 Championship finals well and were scared today. We lost to a better team today.
The difference between the two teams, was that Morocco has the presence of many players in their ranks coming from training centers in Europe with the pace and quality of daily work with their clubs. Our players are, admittedly, a little behind on some of those attributes and systems of everyday work and training ".
Tunisia vs. Botswana
In the second match of the day in Group A it was almost a similar story with Tunisia establishing dominance just like Morocco in their game against Botswana. The Tunisians’ technical mastery was tested against the athleticism of the Young Zebras of Botswana.
According to Abdelay Ben Soltane, the coach of the Carthage Eaglets “Carthage Eaglets. I expected a physical game with their direct play, their fighting spirit, their physical condition” Soltane was pleased with the way his charges played in particular how they started.
It took the Eaglets mere 30 seconds to be on the score sheet through Mohamed Ben Larbin and the same player converted a penalty three minutes later to make it 2-0. The Young Zebras eventually steadied the ship and played as if nothing had happened in the opening minutes.
The Southern Africans reduced the arrears through Tumisang Orebonye and the score was 2-1 at half time. Botswana coach Kagiso Kobedi ‘s side battled on in the second looking for the equaliser but it was Tunisia who scored again in the 50th minute through Nidhal Ben Salem .
So after the opening day’s proceedings in Group A Morocco lead the standing , followed by Tunisia a, then Botswana and Gabon On Tuesday 16th April hosts Morocco will take on Botswana while Tunisia and Gabon battle it out in the other match.
With the semi-finalists at this tournament automatically qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates in October/November 2013, Morocco and Tunisia will approach Tuesday games fully aware that another win could secure that semi-final place, while for Botswana and Gabon a second loss spells the end of a semi-final dream.
The action turns to Group B in Marrakech for the opening games on Sunday 14th April, featuring Congo vs. Ivory Coast first and then Nigeria vs. Ghana.