Morocco pull off another upset at the World Cup and beat Belgium, 2-0
By Gérald IMRAY
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Morocco pulled off another World Cup clash on Sunday, and Belgium’s aging “Golden Generation” took the hit this time.
The 2-0 setback left Kevin de Bruyne and the 2018 semi-finalists in danger of a group stage exit in what is likely to be the last World Cup for a highly talented Belgian squad who have failed. succeeded in converting his promise into a prize.
It may now be too late.
De Bruyne failed to advance Belgium against Morocco, captain Eden Hazard was removed after an hour and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was probably at fault for the opening goal.
“We haven’t seen the best Belgium yet,” said Roberto Martinez, a Spaniard who coached the team for six years. “We haven’t been ourselves.”
Belgium could have become the second team behind defending champions France to qualify for the round of 16 had they beaten Morocco. But he slipped from first to third in Group F and is now playing against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, trying to avoid their first elimination since 1998.
Morocco substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri gave his side the lead by whipping in the free kick from a tight angle down the left in the 73rd minute that went under the body of Courtois – for many the best goalkeeper in the world.
Zakaria Aboukhlal guided a shot into the roof of the net from a pass from Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time to make it 2-0 as the Belgian defence, with more than 300 international appearances but anchored by two players in their 30s , was beaten by a speedy 22-year-old striker playing his first World Cup.
The Moroccan players knelt and rested their heads on the ground in prayer, then jumped up in celebration. Rising from the ground, Courtois simply shook his head.
The second big upset at the first World Cup in the Middle East involved another Arab nation. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in the first round of group matches.
Morocco, who were roared by the sound of thunder from their supporters at the Al Thumama stadium, started in Qatar with a promising 0-0 draw against Croatia.
“We are delighted with this after Croatia and Belgium,” Moroccan coach Walid Regragui said. “It’s absolutely exceptional for Morocco.”
Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, had won their last seven group games at the World Cup before the upset, but that included a painstaking 1-0 win over Canada to open this year’s tournament.
Even De Bruyne said in a media interview before the World Cup that the Belgian team is probably too old to win now.
“I don’t think the comments will affect a result or a performance,” Martinez said, dismissing the suggestion that De Bruyne’s interview could have upset Belgium.
Morocco had to make a substitution just before kick-off when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou felt unwell, but the North Africans were unaffected and picked up their first World Cup victory since 1998 and only their third. Morocco moved to four points and Croatia are also four after beating Canada later on Sunday. Belgium has three points and Canada has been eliminated.
Morocco have advanced beyond the group stage only once at a World Cup, in 1986. And things were in turmoil ahead of the tournament after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked and Regragui at the end of August, less than three months before. world Cup. Regragui had just three friendlies to make his mark in the squad before facing Croatia in the World Cup.
REMINDER OF ZIYECH
Regragui immediately recalled Ziyech, a Chelsea winger who was exiled from the squad under Halilhodzic due to a rift between them. Ziyech curled in a disallowed free kick in the first half, scored the second goal and was Morocco’s best player against Belgium.
THE BELGIAN DESPAIR
Martinez brought in striker Romelu Lukaku, the country’s top scorer, as a substitute with less than 10 minutes left in a desperate bid to salvage one when they were 1-0 down. Lukaku has just returned from a left thigh problem and has missed Belgium a lot. Martinez could be forced to start him against Croatia.
The final group games will take place on Thursday, when Morocco return to Al Thumama Stadium to face Canada. Belgium will face Croatia at the same time.
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