Walid Regragui became the first Morocco manager since 1998 to lead the Atlas Lions to victory at the World Cup in an entertaining encounter with 2018 semi-finalists, but it did not come easy.
The teams were level at the break, but not for the lack of trying. Belgium dominated proceedings in the opening half and created better chances, but they failed to take their chances.
However, Roberto Martinez’s side had VAR to thank for not being punished for their profligacy in front of goal in the added time of the first half.
Hakim Ziyech’s left-footed drive found its way across the line, but Romain Saiss, who was in an offside position when the ball was played, was adjudged to have interfered with play – another reprieve for a lacklustre Belgium side at the World Cup.
Morocco began the second half looking to impose themselves more in the game as their first-half plan of keeping the Red Devils at bay worked a treat, and they were soon rewarded for their bravery.
Pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier disallowed goal, it was Abdelhamid Sabiri who this time delivered the whipped cross that Thibaut Courtois failed to keep out.
There was no offside call this time, much to the delight of the hoards of Morocco supporters inside the Al Thumama Stadium.
Belgium had not lost a World Cup group-stage game since their defeat against Saudi Arabia in 1994. It was only fair that, more poetically, another Middle Eastern nation would be the ones to end their 13 group stage games unbeaten run.
With a looping right-footed shot that flew into the root of Courtois’ net, Zakaria Aboukhlal’s 93rd-minute strike secured a famous three points for Morocco, rubber-stamping a dominative performance from Regragui’s men.
Martínez’s side will now head into their final group stage match with Croatia on Thursday, knowing nothing but a positive result will be enough to secure progression.
Morocco, who are in control of their own fate following victory today, will tackle Canada for a chance to secure only their second knockout phase appearance in World Cup history.
Thibaut Courtois (4/10) – Made a few decent saves but should have done more to prevent Morocco’s opening goal.
Thomas Meunier (4/10) – Was poor in all areas of the pitch.
Toby Alderwirled (5/10) – Was not tested too much but put in a decent shift in the first half. Was beaten several times late on.
Jan Vertonghen (5/10) – Struggled somewhat with the pace of Morocco’s attackers but was strong in the air.
Timothy Castange (4/10) – Struggled to deal with Ziyech and offered next to nothing going forward.
Amadou Onana (6/10) – Was solid defensively and strong in the air, but he was guilty of losing the ball in some dangerous positions. Was taken off for the more creative Youri Tielemans.
Axel Witsel (5/10) – Was dominant in midfield in the first half, but his impact on the game faded late on.
Thorgan Hazard (6/10) – Created several chances on the left flank, linking well with his brother Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi.
Kevin De Bruyne (5/10) – Not at his creative best and struggled to impact the match effectively.
Eden Hazard (4/10) – An anonymous first opening period from the Real Madrid forward. He tested the Moroccan defence a bit more in the second half.
Michy Batshuayi (4/10) – Rarely got involved and was sloppy when he did.
Youri Tielemans (5/10)
Dries Mertens (5/10)
Leandro Trossard (4/10)
Charles De Ketelaere (4/10)
Romelu Lukaku (4/10)
Monir El Kajoui (7/10) – Came in for Bono at the last minute but didn’t look nervous at all. Also made a few good saves.
Achraf Hakimi (7/10) – Got forward really well. Caused problems for Belgium and dealt with Thorgan Hazard easily.
Nayef Aguerd (6/10) – Dealt with Batshuayi with ease and looked solid throughout.
Romain Saiss (7/10) – Led his backline brilliantly, ensuring they never came close to being breached by the Belgian attack.
Noussair Mazraoui (6/10) – Was solid defensively but ineffective in attack.
Azzedine Ounahi (5/10) – Had a solid performance but never really imposed himself in the tie.
Sofyan Amrabat (7/10) – Bossed the midfield battle and helped his side establish a foothold.
Selim Amallah (5/10) – Struggled to get involved in the midfield battle.
Hakim Ziyech (8/10) *MOTM* – Created several chances, had a goal harshly ruled out by VAR, and deservedly got an assist. The best player on the pitch.
Youssef En-Nesyri (5/10) – Worked hard but was hardly a threat to the Belgian backline.
Sofiane Boufal (7/10) – Arguably the most dangerous player on the pitch and nearly scored with a great effort.
Yahia Attiyat Allah (N/A)
Abdelhamid Sabiri (7/10)
Abderrazak Hamdallah (N/A)
Zakaria Aboukhlal (7/10)
Jawad El Yamiq (N/A)
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