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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Morocco produce complete performance to upset Belgium

Morocco are on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup knockout stage after Sunday’s excellent 2-0 victory over Belgium, moving the Atlas Lions to the top of Group F. Goals in the second half from substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal gave Morocco maximum points as they outdueled a Belgium side whose struggles continue. Morocco are on four points through two matches and a point ahead of Belgium ahead of their final group fixture against Canada on Thursday while Belgium will face Croatia.

Belgium were favorites heading into Sunday’s matchup but after laboring to a fortunate 1-0 victory in their opening match against Canada, the Red Devils continued to possess the ball without much purpose. After an opening twenty minutes with few chances, Morocco found their stride and began to regularly apply pressure to the Belgian defense. Morocco star playmaker Hakim Ziyech appeared to have put his side in front just before halftime after his free kick found a way past Belgian goalkeeper Thibault Courtois but Romain Saïss was judged offside by the Video Assistant Referee after obstructing the vision of Courtois.

After the halftime break Belgium continued to ponder with the ball while lacking any sort of cutting edge, allowing Morocco to gain momentum and support from a crowd that was decisively in favor of the Atlas Lions. The two teams traded opportunities in the early stages, Sofiane Boufal curling a 57th minute shot just wide for Morocco before Belgian substitute Dries Mertens launched a dipping effort that was kept out by keeper Munir Mohamedi.

Morocco brought on their own attacking substitutes who would make the difference in the final twenty minutes of the match. Italian-based creative midfielder Sabiri created a moment of magic in the 73rd minute when he sent a swerving free kick from thirty meters out on the left wing that snuck under a diving attempt from Courtois, who was surprised by the bold shot attempt. Belgium could not break down the stubborn Moroccan defense in their comeback try and Aboukhlal finished off the victory in stoppage time, firing a first time shot past Courtois after Ziyech’s brilliance and low cross from the right wing.