There will not be a louder noise in the group stages of this World Cup than the one that greeted Morocco’s two goals here. Half of Casablanca seemed to be inside the Al Thumama Stadium to witness them. As for Roberto Martinez’s abject Belgium side, all they can hear now is the jangling of their own nerves.
This was a victory thoroughly deserved by the north African side. The thousands of Morocco supporters who here to live through it will never forget the moment in the 73rd minute when substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri deceived Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with a free-kick whipped in at the near post and in to the net. The explosion of noise and colour was immediate and prolonged. And in injury time there was to be another, this time created by Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech for substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal. Downtown Doha will be painted red and green tonight.
Belgium, fancied once again to make an impact at this tournament, will have to improve and do so quickly. They were poor in beating Canada in their opening game and were pretty dreadful again here. At times Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne simply looked exasperated at the efforts of those around him and things must turn round fast if they are to secure a passage in to the next phase of the competition with victory over Croatia on Thursday.
Morocco caused a huge World Cup upset, beating Belgium 2-0 thanks to goals from Zakaria Aboukhlal (pictured) and Abdelhamid Sabiri
Aboukhlal netted Morocco's second in the 92nd minute to confirm the win for the Atlas Lions
It sparked wild celebrations among the Moroccans who thoroughly deserved all three points
Before this tournament, Belgium carried a FIFA ranking of two, just behind Brazil. But there was a fear that their defensive partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld may wilt in the desert heat. They are 35 and 33 respectively and although they were not the only weak link in the Belgian chain, it appears that De Bruyne’s pre-match suggestion that Belgium are too old to win a World Cup may have some foundation in truth.
Morocco carried a threat all afternoon. Happy to sit and soak up what was largely pretty unimaginative pressure from Belgium, the African’s broke forward at speed whenever they could. Make no mistake that, after a scoreless draw against Croatia first time out, this was a game they fully intended to win.
They thought they had taken the lead just before half-time when Ziyech’s free-kick from wide on the right deceived Courtois and bounced off him in to the net at the near post. That one was disallowed when VAR replays showed Romain Saiss – once of Southampton – standing in an offside position directly in front of the goalkeeper.
Abdelhamid Sabiri earlier scored from a tight angle to open the scoring for Morocco
Sabiri was introduced in the second half and caught out Thibaut Courtois at his near post
That was the right call. Saiss had to duck to allow the ball to pass over him. How odd though that when Morocco did take the lead almost half an hour of play later, it was from an almost identical routine.
This time the free-kick came from the left but the angles were almost identical. Once again the ball was whipped towards the near post – this time by Sabiri – and once again Courtois had now answer to it whatsoever.
Morocco deserved the lead and celebrated appropriately. Predictably, Belgium threw what they had at their opponents. Romelu Lukaku, injured recently, was on the field by the end.
BELGIUM: (3-5-2) Courtois 4; Meunier 5 (Lukaku 81mins 6), Alderweireld 5, Vertonghen 5; Castagne 6, E Hazard 5 (Mertens 60mins 6), Witsel 6, Onana 6 (Tielemans 60mins 6), T Hazard 6.5 (Trossard 74mins 6); De Bruyne 6.5, Batshuayi 5 (De Ketelaere 75mins 6)
ROBERTO MARTINEZ: 5
MOROCCO: (4-1-2-3) El Kajoui 7; Hakimi 6 (Sabiri 67mins 7), Aguerd 6, Saiss 6.5, Mazraoui 7; Amrabat 7; Ounahi 6.5, Amallah 6 (Attiat-Allah 67mins 6); Ziyech 8, En-Nesyri 6.5 (Hamdallah 72mins 6), Boufal 6.5 (Aboukhlal 72mins 7).
GOALS: Sabiri 73, Aboukhlal 90+2
WALID REGRAGUI: 8
REFEREE: Cesar Ramos 7
In truth, it was a fully-deserved victory for Morocco against an underwhelming Belgium side
Hakim Ziyech had a first half goal disallowed for Morocco after scoring direct from a free-kick
Ziyech's attempt went all the way through but Romain Saiss was in an offside position
The goal was disallowed due to Saiss interfering with play and was given after a VAR check
But Martinez’s team seem to lack the belief and cohesion of old and when the game’s second goal did arrive in the second minute of added time, it was the underdogs who scored it.
A long kick down the field wasn’t dealt with by the Belgian defence and it was not for the first time. On this occasion, a white shirt managed to work the ball right to Ziyech and when he pulled it back, Aboukhlal clipped it high above Courtois and in to the roof of the net.
Earlier in the game, Belgium had fashioned the occasional chance but none of them very clear. Eden Hazard is captain of his team but his football is laboured these days. Up front Michy Batshuayi carried almost no threat at all.
Michy Batshuayi had an early chance for Belgium and forced Munir El Kajoui into a good save
But Belgium were poor throughout the match and failed to break down a resolute Morocco
They had 67 per cent of possession but struggled to create opportunities in front of goal and now face an uphill battle to qualify from Group F, as they face Croatia in their final game
Before the kick off Morocco had changed their goalkeeper after their number one Bruno felt unwell during the anthems. His replacement Munir El Kajoui was a steadying presence but was only really worked from range.
Belgium, frankly, look very much like a team on the decline. Morocco, meanwhile, will take strength from this and it would not be a surprise if the momentum taken from this wonderful afternoon carries them past their next opponents Canada and in to the knock out stages.
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