Morocco were held 0-0 by hosts Mauritania in their Africa Cup of Nations Group E qualifier at Stade Cheikha Ould Boidiya in Nouakchott on Friday night.
The result ensures that the Atlas Lions will finish top of the standings (they had already secured qualification in the last block of qualifiers in November 2020), while Al Murabitun edge closer to a second successive AFCON appearance.
They have reclaimed second place from Burundi and know that a win away to the Central African Republic next week will guarantee qualification.
Morocco enjoyed the better chances through the first half, with the likes of Hakim Ziyech and debutant Munir El Haddadi enjoying influence from relatively early on. Adam Masina, another making his first appearance for the Atlas Lions, was also keen to impress.
Ziyech teed up a chance for Youssef En Nesyri just before the midway point of the first half, but the Spain-based striker failed to test Mauritania goalkeeper Namori Diaw.
The home side’s gloves-man was called into action by Selim Amallah with just over 10 minutes of the first stanza left to play, pushing away a well-struck shot which looked destined for the back of the net.
Al Murabitun created relatively few opportunities in attack, though Ahmed Bessam stung the palms of Morocco’s Yassine Bounou just before the break.
With the game goalless at the break, Morocco opted for a change in midfield at the start of the second half, as Yahya Jabrane made way for the more attack-minded Sofyan Amrabat.
As the game wore on the hosts gained more and more confidence from the solidity of their defence, with centre-backs Diade Diarra and Bakary N’Diaye putting in commanding performances.
Midway through the second half Mauritania freshened up their attack, replacing Bessam and Aboubakar Kamara with Ismael Diakite and Hemeya Tanjy, while a few minutes later En Nesyri let fly with a shot which skewed well wide as Morocco continued to be frustrated.
Tanjy was a particularly effective outlet in attack, bringing energy and additional movement to Al Murabitun, though too often his best work was done too far away from goal to truly threaten Bounou.
Ultimately the sides settled for a share of the spoils, with Morocco satisfied at retaining their unbeaten record and cementing top spot, while Mauritania claimed a valuable point on their path to the Nations Cup.
The teams will complete their Group E campaigns on Tuesday, 30 March, with Morocco hosting Burundi and Mauritania visiting Central African Republic.
Mauritania: N. Diaw, M. Diaw, N’Diaye (Ousmane 82’), Diarra, Abeid, Mahmoud (Diop 90+1’), Dellahi, Camara, El Hacen (Coulibaly 90+2’), Kamara (Diakite 68’), Bessam (Tanjy 68’)
Morocco: Bounou, Hakimi, Feddal, Saiss, Masina, Jabrane (Amrabat 46’), Barkok, Amallah (El Arabi 81’), Ziyech (Rahimi 88’), El Haddadi, En Nesyri