Atlas Lions roar again

  • We look back at the 2020 CHAN just won by Morocco

  • Mali finished runners-up and Guinea third

  • Tournament reserved for African-based players

Triumphant on home soil in 2018, Morocco secured back-to-back titles at the CAF African Nations Championship, a tournament reserved for African-based players.

In the final on 7 February, the Atlas Lions beat Mali (2-0), while Guinea completed the podium at the tournament’s sixth edition with their 2-0 win over hosts Cameroon. We pick out some of the key takeaways from the tournament.

The champions

The first country ever to retain the title, Morocco put on a near flawless display, the only slight blemish being a 0-0 draw with Rwanda on the second matchday of the group stage. And while their total of just three goals conceded was impressive, it was going forward that they really set themselves apart.

Leading the way was tournament top scorer and best player Soufiane Rahimi, who accounted for five of his side’s 15 goals. The Raja Casablanca winger did not get on the scoresheet in the final, however, leaving the spotlight to goalkeeper Anas Zniti, whose impressive display earned him the man of the match award.

The runners-up

In contrast to Morocco, Mali’s run to the final owed more to their defensive solidity. Despite only scoring three times in six games, they still managed to reach the decider, winning their respective quarter-final and semi-final against Congo and Guinea from the penalty spot, following two scoreless draws. Having expended considerable energy in getting there, the Eagles could not withstand Morocco’s formidable attack in the final.

The stat

2 - In winning their second CHAN title, Morocco joined Congo DR as the tournament’s most successful side. Mali, meanwhile, finished runners-up for the second time after missing out in 2016 to Congo DR.

Did you know?

One set of lions crowned... another tamed: While Cameroon had a successful tournament in terms of hosting, the same cannot be said of its on-field performance. Roundly beaten in the semi-finals (4-0) by the eventual champions, the Indomitable Lions were still hoping for a podium finish for the first time at this event. However, Guinea had not read the script and duly took bronze for their own maiden CHAN medal.

El Kaabi comes good: Ayoub El Kaabi, the nine-goal leading-scorer at the previous edition, was widely tipped to be the Atlas Lions’ top gun going into the competition. However, their captain and centre forward was on the periphery for much of the tournament, only finding the net twice, each time from the spot. All that changed in the final when he made sure of victory with a close-range diving header in the 79th minute.

Diarra, an unfortunate hero: "Having the ability to save your team in a penalty shoot-out, when a lot of people are depending on you, is a unique feeling," Djigui Diarra told at the end of CHAN 2016, where he first showed his shot-stopping skills on the continental stage. Five years later, the Mali keeper distinguished himself again, helping his side prevail during shoot-outs twice more. But as in 2016, Diarra could not prevent defeat in the final. "I’m convinced that we’ll have the chance to redeem ourselves," he said in 2016. Perhaps Diarra and his team-mates will get another one.

What they said

"I congratulate Mali and their coach Diane Nouhoum for their participation in the competition. Reaching the final is an achievement in itself. For our part, we came here with a vastly changed team and new staff. So, it was about creating our own history and winning for ourselves. Today's final was difficult, but we did enough and were deserved winners I think." Houcine Ammouta, coach of Morocco’s CHAN team