El Kaabi prompts Morocco turnaround vs. Slovakia

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Ayoub El Kaabi and Younes Belhanda found the net as Morocco came from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 in a pre-World Cup international friendly in Geneva on Monday.

Jan Gregus opened the scoring for Slovakia in the 59th minute, but El Kaabi equalised five minutes later – only moments after coming off the bench – before Belhanda netted the winner 15 minutes from time.

It had been shaping up to be another frustrating evening for Morocco, who struggled to break down a determined Ukraine side in an ill-tempered friendly on Thursday.

Their unbeaten run, which stretches back to a 1-0 defeat by Cameroon on June 10 2017, was threatened when Gregus put Slovakia ahead when he beat Yassine Bounou just before the hour mark.

Morocco had dominated the contest to that point, without being able to make the breakthrough, but Herve Renard opted to shuffle his pack after falling behind, and introduced poacher El Kaabi.

The Renaissance Berkane hitman needed little time to make an impact – and to vindicate Renard’s decision to select him – when he levelled the score with a close-range header after evading his marker.

His cameo was further evidence that he can provide the goal threat that has been missing for the Atlas Lions.

El Kaabi was the star of Morocco’s triumphant African Nations Championship campaign earlier this year, when he netted nine – a record for a single edition of the tournament – while he’s already scored six goals in the CAF Champions League.

He also proved during the CHAN that he’s no one-dimensional poacher, although his equaliser against Slovakia showcased his fox-in-the-box qualities and his prowess from close range.

Belhanda secured the win in the 74th minute with a stunning goal, as he controlled the ball on his chest just outside the area, before slamming a right-footed volley into the corner of Michal Sulla’s net.

Morocco, who have been pooled alongside Iran, Spain and Portugal at the World Cup, meet Estonia in a final warm-up fixture on Saturday.

They kick off their Group B campaign against the Iranians in Saint Petersburg on June 15.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.

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