It’s been a disappointing game so far, but I suspect that both sides would be reasonably happy with the point they are currently getting. Still, we live in hope.
Half time: South Africa 0-0 Morocco
45+2 mins: The first half is complete. To sum up the key incidents from the opening period: Morocco had a shot on target.
45+1 mins: We are in stoppage time. There have been a lot of stoppages, but there will be only one minute of additional time.
44 mins: The referee just refused an opportunity to award a free-kick, after Zungu went down not far from the edge of Morocco’s penalty area.
42 mins: Amrabat is seeing more of the ball since his switch to the right (or during the periods when he’s on the right, anyway) but he continues to demonstrate the inability to accurately cross it that Watford fans will be so familiar with.
40 mins: 14 free-kicks, apparently, at the rate of one every two and a half minutes or so.
39 mins: Another foul, this one on Mothiba. There have been a lot of free kicks.
36 mins: Amrabat, who appears to be switching wings every 30 seconds or so, crosses but it comes off Mkhwanazi and deflects into the arms of Ronwen Williams. Amrabat thinks it came off the defender’s arm, but it looks like a header on the replays.
35 mins: And then a save at the other end! Amrabat’s lovely cross looks destined for En-Nesyri’s head, but somehow he gets nothing on it. The ball is headed clear, but Belhanda runs onto it 22 yards out and hammers a low shot goalwards, but it’s a straightforward stop.
34 mins: Oooof! Nearly a goal for South Africa! Percy Tau checks onto his left foot, scampers across the edge of the area and shoots just wide of the far post!
31 mins: Bongani Zungu becomes the second name in the referee’s book, for a foul on Amrabat, who has switched to the right on a semi-permanent basis.
29 mins: I’d really like to have more to tell you, but almost all of the play is happening more than 40 yards from either goal. Amrabat pops up on the right and tries to cross, but doesn’t succeed.
24 mins: En-Nesyri is played through again, is given offside again, and it looks very much like he wasn’t again.
21 mins: “Any hope for Bafana to pull this off and qualify?” wonders Ian van Reenen. “I’m clearly desperate.” Certainly, given that four of the six third-placed teams will go through. A draw here will most probably be enough.
19 mins: A shot! The first of the day by my count, and it comes from the right foot of Younes Belhanda, who is lurking beyond the far post when the cross from that free-kick is headed straight to him.
18 mins: A first booking, and Themba Zwane is the man punished, for pushing the Morocco captain, M’Bark Boussoufa, in the back.
15 mins: A hint of a chance for South Africa, thanks to a smart dummy on the edge of the area, but all they get from it is a corner, which is headed clear.
12 mins: Very little by way of goalmouth action to report. What I can tell you is that the referee, Jean Jacques Ngambo, appears quite fond of his whistle.
8 mins: We have seen very little so far of Amrabat, who has had an excellent tournament so far. The most I can say of him is that he was standing nearby when Serero was caught by El Ahmadi. There was little contact, but much reaction.
5 mins: Chance for Morocco! Ziyech plays a beautifully-time and weighted pass from the halfway line to Youssef En-Nesyri. He is given offside, so strictly speaking it wasn’t a chance at all, but he wasn’t actually offside, so it should have been.
3 mins: South Africa win a corner, and attempt a rehearsed manoeuvre of complete idiocy which involves Percy Tau passing into the area, where a player who has peeled away into space returns it to Tau, who is offside. Free kick to Morocco.
2 mins: Early days, of course, but South Africa have started with greater urgency.
Anthems done, both teams are having a little pre-match huddle, and we’ll soon by under way.
The players are out, and the national anthems are being played. South Africa’s anthem starts superbly, I think, but then meanders along disappointingly before eventually giving up.
The sun is shining over Cairo, and the stands of the al-Salam stadium are very slightly more populated than they would be on a day when there isn’t a match on. Still, there’s plenty of time before kick-off.
The teams are in, and here they jolly well are:
South Africa: Williams, Mkhize, Hlanti, Mkhwanazi, Hlatshwayo, Mokotjo, Zwane, Zungu, Serero, Mothiba, Tau.
Morocco: Munir, Mazraoui, Da Costa, Saiss, Hakimi, El Ahmadi, Boussoufa, Ziyech, Belhanda, Amrabat, En Nesyri.
For Group D and at least one of the teams in it, the end is nigh. So far, every single game in the group has ended 1-0, the upshot being that Morocco are safely through with six points, while Ivory Coast and South Africa are tied on three points apiece with identical records but for the fact that Ivory Coast won the game between them. Namibia, with no points, require a healthy and apparently unlikely victory over Ivory Coast if they are to progress, but for the rest it’s game very much on.
Hervé Renard, Morocco’s French coach, revealed before the game that he has previously been approached by South Africa, but failed to reach an agreement with them because “of course I am not cheap”. Stuart Baxter currently has the job, which may or may mean that he is cheap. “South Africa have a lot of very good players,” Renard added. “They also have a good coach so it will be a tough game.” Based on South Africa’s performances against Ivory Coast and Namibia, this is a very generous assessment.
Important information department: Renard is French for fox. Baxter meanwhile, to quote Wikipedia, is “originally from the English occupational surname meaning ‘baker’, from the early Middle English bakstere and the Old English bæcere. The form Bakster was originally feminine, with Baker as the masculine equivalent.” The fact that baxter is to baker as bride is to groom is the most interesting thing I have learned today.
So, that’s the scene set. How’s things?