Morocco became the first nation to defend the African Nations Championship (CHAN) with a dramatic 2-0 victory over Mali at the Stade Ahamadou Ahidjo in Yaounde.
Soufianne Bouftini put the Moroccans in the lead with 19 minutes left to play before captain Ayoub El Kaabi sealed victory with a close-range past Djigui Diarra.
Morocco went into the game under pressure to deliver the trophy and victory sparked wild celebrations as El Kaabi lifted the trophy into the Yaounde night sky.
The Cameroon CHAN tournament was played amid health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic but became a hymn to perhaps the best organised tournament with tension and drama all over.
Morocco started the game brighter than Mali, and had a couple of good opportunities mostly from set-pieces, but failed to find a breakthrough.
The Atlas Lions of Morocco had over 61% of possession, but troubled Mali Djigui Diarra only once in the first half, Soufiane Rahimi drawing a fine save from the goalkeeper off a free kick.
Mali despite being more on the back foot for much of the opening half, created two great opportunities against the run of play through Siaka Bagayoko and Demba Diallo.
Morocco continued their dominance at the start of the second half and had a strong shout for a penalty after Talisman Soufiane Rahimi went down under Issiake Samamke’s challenge.
However, Kenyan referee Waweru Peter waved it off after a lengthy review from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Shortly afterwards, Mali nearly took the lead but goalkeeper Anas Zniti pulled off a fine save to deny Moussa Koné from close range after the striker did well to bring down Samake’s long ball.
Morocco’s reliance on set pieces did pay off with 21 minutes after Soufianne Bouftini headed in Omar Namsaoui’s corner kick.
Morocco added a second from captain El Kaabi who was on hand to turn in Mohamed Bemammer’s header from Namasoui’s to put the game beyond the Malians.
There was late drama as Samake saw red following a VAR review that took over five minutes for what was considered dangerous play on Morocco defender Abdelmounaim Boutouil.
Only 10,000 fans from Cameroon were available to watch Morocco’s triumphant night, but at the end of the three weeks tussle, it was the Atlas Lions of Morocco who were revelling in stopping another Malian sniff of the CHAN title.
How they lined up
Morocco XI: Anas Zniti (GK), Omar Namsaoui, Soufiane Bouftini, Abdelmounaim Boutouil, Hamza El Moussaoui, Yahya Jabrane, Mohamed Bemammer, Abdelilah Hafidi, Soufiane Rahimi, Noah Wail Sadaoui, Ayoub El Kaabi (C)
Mali XI: Djigui Diarra (GK) (C), Siaka Bagayoko Chato, Bangaly Sanogo, Yacouba Doumbia, Issiaka Samaké, Moussa Kyabou, Sadio Kanouté, Demba Diallo, Makan Samabaly, Moussa Ballo, Moussa Koné Koffi