Morocco were made to work unexpectedly hard to secure a 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso in Segou, Mali, yesterday to establish a two-point lead at the top of Group B.
In the other Group B game, Ghana and South Africa drew 0-0, both securing their second goalless draws to stand joint second in the table.
The day's Group C game also finished goalless, Togo moving into second place behind Cameroon by drawing with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Sikasso. The few clear chances that were created went begging, Newcastle's Lomana Tresor Lua-Lua shooting wide in the last 10 minutes to waste DR Congo's best opportunity.
Burkina Faso showed more of the grit that they displayed in holding the disappointing group favourites, South Africa, in the opening game to prevent Morocco running away with a game they dominated for long periods.
Morocco had Aberdeen's Hicham Zerouali to thank for their victory. He scored both their goals, adding the winner after the Burkinabe had equalised during a purple patch. Moumouni Dagano had already had a penalty appeal turned down early in the second half before he reacted smartly to score when Oumar Barro's 58th-minute free-kick deflected off the defensive wall. When he hit the bar with a header only two minutes later, it seemed that a real upset could be on the cards, but Zerouali struck again five minutes from time, heading in Morocco's second from a corner.
The Aberdeen striker's opener in the 23rd minute was all the Atlas Lions had to show for their first-half dominance. He steered the ball in from a mis-hit cross by Coventry's Youssef Chippo to end a spell in which Morocco had wasted several promising attacks.
It was experience abroad that proved decisive and Humberto Coelho, Morocco's coach, will continue looking for promising players from among the growing immigrant communities around Europe even though there have been reports of divisions between home-based players in his squad and those playing or born abroad.
The Fulham defender Abdeslam Ouaddou was sent home last weekend after a dispute with one of his team-mates, and Aston Villa's Mustapha Hadji, the former African Footballer of the Year who was not selected for the tournament in Mali, claimed this month that there was a "poisonous atmosphere" in the squad between the two groups.Reuse content