Morocco gave their hopes of progress to the round of 16 place a huge boost by shocking Belgium on Sunday, winning 2-0 through late goals by substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal.
Two substitutes make the difference with late goals.Belgium suffer first group-stage defeat since 1994
Sabiri broke the deadlock with 17 minutes left with a free-kick swung in from a position wide on the left, just a metre or two from the touchline, which beat Thibaut Courtois at his near post. Aboukhlal then ended any doubt by flashing a shot past Courtois from a cutback by the impressive Hakim Ziyech.
Roberto Martinez’s 2018 semi-finalsts would have progressed to the last 16 with a victory but, as in their narrow opening win over Canada, failed to find top gear and may now have to beat Croatia in their last group game to qualify. For now Morocco sit top of Group F with four points, with Croatia and Canada meeting later in the day.
The North Africans have not reached the knockout rounds since 1986 when they beat Portugal 3-1 to reach the last 16. With a game against Canada to come will believe in their chances after their first victory over European opposition at the World Cup since beating Scotland in 1998.
Morocco had to make a last-minute change to their starting XI when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou pulled out after the anthems – for reasons not yet specified – and was replaced by Monir Al Kajoui. He made an early save to settle any nerves when smothering a Michy Batshuayi attempt at close range.
Morocco had the majority of the crowd at Al Thumama Stadium on their side and they thought they had given them a goal to celebrate in stoppage time at the end of the first half when Ziyech whipped in a free-kick from wide on the right that beat Courtois at his near post. However, Romain Saiss, standing right in front of the goalkeeper, was ruled offside after a VAR check.
They gave Belgium another scare 10 minutes after the break when Sofiane Boufal cut in from the left and shot just past the far post. The Red Devils’ reprieve would be brief, however, as they fell to their first loss in the group stage of the World Cup since Saudi Arabia beat them at USA 94.Morocco have now gone six games without conceding a goal.
The group concludes on Thursday with Croatia vs Belgium and Canada vs Morocco.