2018 World Cup: Boutaib hat-trick lifts Morocco to top of Group C

Khalid Boutaib
Khalid Boutaib is congratulated by his Morocco team-mates as he scores against Gabon

Khalid Boutaib hit a hat-trick as Morocco beat Gabon 3-0 in Casablanca to leapfrog Ivory Coast at the top of Group C.

Boutaib headed hosts Morocco ahead in the 38th minute with the Turkey-based forward adding a second in the 56th minute and he completed his hat-trick in the 72nd minute.

Morocco now have a slender one-point lead over the Elephants and both countries will fight for the sole group ticket on the final day in Ivory Coast next month.

Gabon, who were buoyed by the return to the squad of their superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, are now eliminated from the race to Russia.

Ivory Coast, whose 2015 Africa Cup of Nations title come when current Morocco coach Herve Renard was in charge of the Elephants, must win the game to reach their fourth World Cup in a row.

The North Africans, meanwhile, are bidding to appear at the finals for the first time since 1998, when they exited in the group stage.

African WC Qualifying Group CPlayedPoints
Morocco 59
Ivory Coast58
Gabon55
Mali53

In 1986, the Atlas Lions became the first African country to win a World Cup group as well as reach the second round of the tournament.

The World Cup in 1998 aside, the 1976 African Champions also finished in the group stage in 1970 and 1994.

On Friday night, Ivory Coast drew 0-0 away to Mali in Bamako which briefly put them top of the standings.

Mali's Moussa Doumbia missed a first-half sitter and struck the crossbar in the second half as the hosts came close to their first win of the campaign.

The Ivorians, who lost several key players to injury on the eve of the game, moved to eight points from five matches while Mali are now out of contention.

Only the group winners qualify for Russia 2018.

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