Benin caused a massive upset by eliminating pre-tournament favourite Morocco and reaching their first Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final.
An unexpectedly closely matched encounter saw the unfancied Squirrels take a surprise lead through Moise Adilehou before Youssef En-Nesyri equalised in regulation time.
Hakim Ziyech could have ended the contest there and then, but his penalty miss in the final minute of stoppage time meant this affair was going into extra-time, and the drama continued with Benin central defender Khaled Adénon receiving a second booking.
Their rivals, with a numerical advantage, couldn’t profit and the game headed to spot kicks which Benin made count winning 4-1 and creating even more history in the process.
As both sides go their separate ways here are five things we learned from this encounter.
1. Adilehou breaks Morocco’s resolve
Just three sides entered the knockout phase with a perfect record. They all just so happen to be North African rivals — Algeria, Egypt and Morocco — if that’s not impressive, the 100 percenters (along with Cameroon) were solid defensively having not conceded a goal.
This was expected to be a straightforward affair even if Benin have proven to be a side one should not underestimate. After spending much of the opening half on the back foot, they started to fancy their chances, the incredible moment came eight minutes after the break when Moise Adilehou scored his first international goal by converting a Cebio Soukou corner and sending their bench into delirium.
2. Adeoti’s brain fart
It’s hard to look at this Morocco side on paper and not think of them as anything less than great by African football standards. However, that is a very simplistic approach which doesn’t apply here, if anything there’s nothing to suggest Hervé Renard’s team are more than the sum of its parts. They barely dominated Benin and were fortunate to get back into the contest.
Just when it seemed they were running out of ideas, with the game entering the final 15 minutes, Jordan Adeoti decided after gaining possession near his penalty area to dilly dally on the ball which invited Moubarak Boussoufa to snatch it away and he was more than happy to play in Youssef En-Nesyri to score his second of the championship. That was as good as things got for one of the pre-tournament favourites who must now embark on a period of soul searching.
3. Waiting for Ziyech
One individual many expected to have a barnstormer of a tournament was Morocco’s creative forward who linked up with his national team following an exceptional season. Ziyech — who made 49 appearances whilst registering 21 goals and 24 assists — played an instrumental role in Ajax winning a first double since 2002 as well reaching the Champions League semi-finals.
Whether he’s feeling burden of expectation or struggling to work in Renard’s system is debatable, but what’s undeniable has been him underperforming (0 goal and 1 assist in four matches). In fairness against Benin we saw a more promising showing even if it was laced with frustration, nothing exemplified that more so than his last minute penalty miss forcing the game into extra time, and his subsequent close range effort that went awry. There’s something clearly amiss unfortunately we’ll not see that being resolved in Egypt following their shock early departure.
4. Unwanted record, but who cares?
This summer’s tournament was Benin’s fourth Afcon appearance following brief stays in the 2004, 2008 and 2010 events. It goes without saying they aren’t exactly powerhouses or, for whatever reason, capable of causing a surprise. It could have all changed for Michel Dussuyer’s men in 2019 when they pushed their more illustrious opponents Ghana (2-2) and Cameroon (0-0) all the way.
Two credible draws, plus another scoreless affair with Guinea-Bissau, has put some respect on their name. But it doesn’t mask the fact they are yet to taste victory, something that escaped them before and after today. The Squirrels – with a 1-1 draw after regular time – have now gone 13 consecutive Afcon matches without a single win, a new tournament record, surpassing Mozambique who last featured in 2010 but given this historic run, a first ever quarter-final appearance, it’s hard to see them caring too much.
5. A tournament of firsts
Since the competition was inaugurated in 1962 it has gone through various formats and number of participants. The 32nd edition saw 24 qualified teams, an increase from 16, meaning for the first time at these championships there will be a stage before the quarter-finals. Similar to the concurrent Women’s World Cup it consists of our best ranked third place teams plus six group winners and runners-up. Benin, playing in their first Afcon knockout game, finished behind heavyweights Ghana and Cameroon and can still incredibly dream of going all the way.