A much-improved Morocco display was enough for a deserved 1-0 victory over Cote d’Ivoire, as well as a place in the Round of 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Herve Renard’s side welcomed back midfielders Karim El Ahmadi and Younes Belhanda, both of whom were absent for their underwhelming opening day win over Namibia.

The Ivoirians almost went ahead inside the first minute, however. Serge Aurier battled into the final third, before sending over a fine cross. Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia rose highest in the box, but his goalbound header was cleared from under his own crossbar by Roman Saiss.

From then on, however, Morocco dominated proceedings.

Youssef En-Nesyri served notice of his predatory instincts, ending a flowing move by sweeping Nabil Dirar’s cross into the side-netting from a very tight angle.

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En-Nesyri’s predatory instincts came to the fore on Friday

That warning was not heeded, and in the 23rd minute, he made Cote d’Ivoire pay. A raking ball out to the left flank found Nordin Amrabat in a bit of space. The winger then produced an outrageous run, dribbling past three challenges, before playing a superb reverse pass for the run of En-Nesyri. The Leganes man had bent his run to remain onside, and swept the ball home past Sylvain Gbohouo.

Soon after, the Ivoirians came close to levelling. A fortuitous break saw Max Gradel run in-behind the Morocco defence, but the quick intervention of Yassine Bounou thwarted him, and the follow-up effort curled wide.

The Atlas Lions could have had more in the second period. En-Nesyri’s clever backheel was saved by the fingertips of Gbohouo, and Noussair Mazraoui crashed a shot against the woodwork after Mbark Boussoufa’s cross found him totally unmarked at the far post.

In the end, Morocco were good value for the win, and will guarantee top spot in Group D with a draw against South Africa in their final group match.

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