Morocco stunned Belgium by claiming long-awaited World Cup victory

Substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal gave Morocco their first World Cup victory in 24 years as they upset a hugely disappointing Belgium side 2-0 in World Cup Group F on Sunday.

The Morocco fans gave the match a vintage World Cup feel in a boiling atmosphere at the Al Thumama stadium and Sabiri curled a wide free-kick past Thibaut Courtois before Aboukhlal scored in stoppage time to put Morocco top of Group F by four points, one ahead of Belgium.
It was Morocco’s first World Cup victory since beating Scotland in 1998. They exited the 2018 tournament with one point.

Belgium, who beat Canada 1-0 in their opening game, again looked a pale shadow of the team that finished third in 2018 and moved up to second in the world rankings. They now have to compete for a place in the last 16 against Croatia.

The Red Devils’ poor performance even forced coach Roberto Martinez to send Romelu Lukaku off for the last 10 minutes in a desperate attempt to salvage a point, even though the burly striker was struggling with a hamstring problem.

Croatia, who have one point from their draw with Morocco, will face Canada in the other Group F game later on Sunday.

To a brisk start, Morocco seemed happy to sit and wait amid the deafening whistles of their fans, although periods of intense pressing led to a few dangerous counter-attacks with Hakim Ziyech the main threat.

While Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne struggled to find his range and Eden Hazard remained largely ineffective, Morocco appeared safe. Courtois was beaten for the first time in the tournament when Ziyech fired a free kick into the peloton which bounced past the keeper at the near post on the stroke of half time.

However, Romain Saiss was marginally offside and referee Carlos Ramos disallowed the goal after a VAR review because the Besiktas defender was blocking Courtois’ view. Morocco began to seize their chances and were more on the attack with Sofiane Boufal’s shot from just inside the box going just wide after the break.

Belgium was upset and Martinez sent on Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens to replace Amadou Onana and Eden Hazard. Mertens had an immediate impact and forced El Kajoui, who was ahead of Yassine Bounou a few minutes before kick-off, to make a beautiful save with a fierce shot.

Moroccan substitute Sabiri broke the deadlock in the 73rd with an angled free kick, similar to the one that led to the disallowed goal in the first half, as all Courtois could do was tap the ball into the net. Saiss also got in the way, but this time offside, and Morocco defended tooth and nail until they found another opening, with Aboukhlal clipping Ziyech’s cross into the roof of the net as the stadium boiled over.

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