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Panthers stay in the hunt with impressive win

The Panthers dealt a deflating loss to the Atlas Lions in Libreville as they beat the visitors by a two goal margin and qualified for the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

The match began without very much rhythm as both teams took their time to settle into a game which would have important implications in Group A. Many fouls were committed in the early going but it was the Gabonese who got the first chance of the match after a mistake by the Moroccan defense.

However the North Africans escaped as Aubemayang was whistled for offside. Marouane Chamakh then made a nuisance of himself with good pressure on the Gabonese goalkeeper who failed to clear the ball quickly. The opportunity was the first warning to the visitors and it seemed to momentarily galvanize Hassan Moumen’s men who did their best to match the liveliness of their opponents.

They had to suffer through some nervous moments however in the 10th minute as pressure from the home team off the first free kick of the match eventually led to a cross into the area that asked questions of their defense but the danger was ultimately averted.

The match then turned into a choppy affair with most of the actions taking place in the in the midfield but 16th minute Daniel Cousin energised the crowd by attempting and a scissor kick which he couldn’t get on target.
Gabon showed more attacking intent and troubled Morocco once more three minutes later through Stephane Nguema but nothing came of the opportunity.
The Atlas Lions responded by trying to create more buildup play in their approaches towards the opposing goal but it was Nguema who was once again at the center of things when he received a through pass in the box but his low cross was cleared by a Moroccan defender.

Aubemayang got his first look at goal in the 24th minute when he fixated Mehdi Benatia on the left side, made space and shot from distance but he completely missed his target. Nguema then followed suit and earned his team their first corner kick of the match after his strike was deflected out of play. Youssef Safri was the first to receive a yellow card for a two footed tackle on an opposing midfielder.

The Gabonese almost instantly paid dividends on the subsequent set piece but Aubemayang’s strike hit the crossbar on an acrobatic volley from point blank range. The Panthers smelled blood in the water and forced another opportunity that went begging.

Adel Taarabt attempted a dribble outside the box but nothing was working for him or his team_mates who were eventually reduced to playing an uncharacteristic and unsuccessful long ball game to bypass the athletic midfield of the Libreville favorites.

Gabon once again surged forward with good passing but their finishing touch was simply lacking in the first half. Thankfully for them, Hicham Mahdoufi ended up providing the crucial last touch on one of their plays for them as he deflected a cross from Nguema, who was a constant menace, into his own net and Gabon went into the interval with a 1_0 lead.

Hassan Moumen replaced the ineffective Mounir El Hamdaoui with the in form Hicham Aboucherouane at the beginning of the second half to provide more attacking impetus and fluency to his team. Genoa midfielder Houcine Kharja nearly found Marouane Chamakh in the box but a Gabonese defender intervened at final moment.

Chamakh once again found his way into the area but failed to get anything out of his chance as the ball went out for a goal kick. The Atlas Lions looked to be the better team going forward as Aboucherouane’s entry changed the complexion of the game in his side’s favor.

Morocco got their first corner in the 51st minute and Youssef Safri’s cross was met by Amin Erbate, but his header was cleared for another corner that wasn’t taken advantage of by the visitors.

Unfortunately for the home fans, their best player on the day, Nguema, had to come off as he sustained an injury earlier in the game that he couldn’t recover from. Eric Mouloungi came into the game to take his place.
Despite their pressure, Morocco were to be punished on the counter attack by the second half substitute on a beautiful volley that left Nadir Lamiaghri with no chance.

Marouane Zemmama came off for Olympiacos winger Jaouad Zairi but Daniel Cousin claimed the dagger off an Aubemayng cross to put his team up by the three goals and send the Omar Bongo stadium into jubilation.
Giresse then took off both Aubemayang and Cousin in favor of Roguy Meye and Mbanangoye while Karim El Ahmadi came on for Mahdoufi as Morocco’s last substitution.

In the 87th minute, Adel Taarabt reduced the deficit with a long distance right footed strike but it was too little and too late for the Atlas Lions who are officially out of the running for next summer’s World Cup while Gabon kept up the pressure group leaders Cameroon and qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 10 years.


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