A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.
Victory for Roberto Martinez’s side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.
Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.
The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech’s fine work to leave Group F wide open with one round of games to go.
Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.
Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech’s free-kick found its way into the net, but Romain Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois’ line of sight.
Lightning struck twice for Martinez’s side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick to the near post which found its way past Courtois and, while Saiss was again in the proximity, there was no offside flag to save Belgium this time.
Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up for Aboukhlal to smash home.
What does it mean? Belgium’s fine run ends
Winning their past eight group-stage matches at the World Cup, victory would have seen Belgium set an outright record in that regard, while they had not lost at this stage of the tournament since 1994.
Morocco, with just two wins from 17 previous fixtures at the tournament (D6, L9), were largely unfancied before a ball was kicked in a group that contained two semi-finalists from Russia 2018, but they have avoided defeat against both.
famous triumph inflicted Belgium’s first ever defeat to an African nation at the World Cup, and Morocco now just need a point against Canada to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.
Heading into the game, Morocco had failed to score in 53 per cent of their World Cup matches (9/17), which stood as the joint-highest percentage of any nation to have played at least 10 matches in the tournament.
While chances from open play were limited, Morocco’s effectiveness from set-pieces proved triumphant with the same move against Belgium working twice – though the first was ruled out.
Disappointing De Bruyne
Usually one to pull the strings in midfield, Morocco’s fine organisation left De Bruyne’s influence on the match being limited, the Manchester City man creating just one chance for his team during the game.
De Bruyne ended up being the man at the end of attacking sequences for Martinez’s side, with more shots (three) than any of his team-mates but failing to hit the target with any, while also losing possession on a game-high 27 occasions.
Key Opta Facts:
– Sabiri’s opener was Morocco’s first ever direct free-kick goal at the World Cup. Furthermore, it was the first direct free-kick goal by any nation at the 2022 World Cup.
– Belgium have lost seven of their past 19 matches in all competitions (W9 D3), as many defeats as they had suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57 D10).
– Morocco’s victory over Belgium was their first win in five games at the World Cup (D2 L2). Meanwhile, it was the first time that they had recorded consecutive clean sheets at the World Cup since 1986.
– Belgium are just the third side to lose their 50th game at the World Cup, after England in 2002 (v Brazil) and Spain in 2010 (s Switzerland), though the latter went on to win the tournament that year.
Morocco tackle Canada in their final group match on Thursday, knowing a draw will be enough to secure a spot in the knockout stage, while Belgium lock horns with Croatia on the same day.