Africa Cup of Nations: Final product fails scoreless Angola, Morocco

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The surface shows a match that looks similar to the Cup of Nations’ opener, but as opposed to the 0-0 South Africa played out with Cape Verde, Saturday’s second match continually teased goals. From Morocco’s strong start to the last chance generated by Angola, Group A’s second game could have had multiple goals. But with neither team able to convert, Angola and Morocco ended scoreless, both teams entering into the four-way tie at the top of their group.

It was the first time the Cup of Nations has opened with two scoreless draws, surprising consider the quality of play. This wasn’t the stodgy match many saw take place between South Africa and Cape Verde. A flowing game that saw each team able to take shots at the other’s defense never produced that final piece of execution needed to break through.

At the onset, the game looked set to play out like the opener, with Morocco’s early energy leading to a period of control. Dominant play using the Lions’ speed advantage on the flanks allowed Morocco to continuously get into the final third, with an early chance for Mounir El Hamdaoui nearly giving them an early lead.

But Morocco could never crafted a quality final ball, leading all their attacks to lose steam in front of goal. After their defense adjusted and Angola started winning more midfield battles, the Antelopes came into the match. By the end of the period, Angola was controlling the game, generating a number of set piece chances before the halftime whistle.

After Moroccan star Younès Belhanda came on in the second half (a lack of fitness confining the Montpellier midfielder to the bench at the opening kickoff), the Lions seemed to have the midfield maestro that could take utilized their attackers. But just as in the first half, the end product never arrived.

A late ball overhit for forward Youssef El-Arabi was emblematic Belhanda’s half. What could have been a chance that took three crucial points for Morocco turned into an easy scoop for Angolan keeper Lama, El-Arabi left to cut of his run as a through ball ends for naught.

The Antelopes had their own late chance when Mateus targeted Manucho with a near post cross from the byline. Or perhaps the ball was trying to find substitute Guilherme. Both made the same run, both arrived at the same time, and while the cross seemed destined for Manucho, Angola was left with nothing as the two attackers threw each other off.

While for much of the second half each side seemed capable of scoring, the final whistle left Morocco wondering how their effort never found a goal. From the opening whistle they outran the Antelopes, but their fluidity through the middle third became bogged down as they approached goal. Even after Angola came into the game, their speed out of their half meant they were one well-executed counter away from taking full points.

Perhaps that’s why Angola showed signs of relief after the match, their players quickly turning the to crowd to clap to their fans as multiple Moroccans sat on the field. For a team that has ambitions to go far in the tournament, the Angolans came precariously close to giving another team full points.

Because they had their own chances at the end, Gustavo Ferrin’s players may convince themselves they outplayed Morocco, but Angola should not feel comfortable with how close they came to letting Morocco control this match.

EARLIER: Cape Verda takes point from hosts South Africa

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)