Morocco marauds past blunt Belgium
Arab Spring is back again28 November 2022
Morocco continued the Arab Spring in Qatar as their superb second-half performance secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday. It is only Morocco's third-ever win at a World Cup and it comes against the second-ranked team in the world. Their last win in a Fifa World Cup came 24 years ago against Scotland in 1998.
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.
Belgium made a far better start than they did against Canada, dominating the ball and controlling the match. For all of their possession though, they couldn't trouble Morocco goalkeeper Munir, taking just one tame shot on target in the opening 20 minutes.
Michy Batshuayi forced an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.
The African side grew into the game after that, enjoying some possession of their own, but they too couldn't create any big chances.
Achraf Hakimi came relatively close to opening the scoring in the 34th minute, firing an effort just off-target from the right-hand side of the box.
Five minutes later, Kevin De Bruyne hit a free kick over the bar at the other end, but he and his teammates remained incapable of causing Morocco any problems from open play.
Just before the break, Hakim Ziyech thought he'd opened the scoring with a free kick of his own but VAR ruled it out as Romain Saiss was in an offside position and in Courtois' eyeline.
Morocco started the second half the stronger of the two sides with Ziyech going close again, having a long shot saved by Courtois shortly before Eden Hazard had a good effort palmed away by Munir. From the corner that followed, Amadou Onana headed over.
Back at the other end, Sofiane Boufal so nearly opened the scoring, curling just wide after being set up by a cross-field pass from Ziyech. With just under an hour gone, the underdogs looked more likely to take the lead.
Roberto Martinez then replaced Hazard with Dries Mertens and the 35-year-old made an instant impact, having a good effort from the edge of the box saved by Munir.
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.
Morocco took control back after that and made a deserved breakthrough in the 73rd minute when Sabiri saw his free kick from out wide go straight into the back of the net.Martinez called for reinforcements after that, bringing on three attackers including Romelu Lukaku, but a second Morocco goal on the counter looked far more likely than an equaliser.
That goal came in injury time with Ziyech setting up Aboukhlal who fired in to seal the win and put his nation top of the group.
Morocco moved on to four points from two games with Belgium, second in the world rankings, on three. Canada and Croatia were meeting later in Sunday's other Group F match.