World Cup: Moroccan energy shuts out insipid Belgium
Abdelhamid Sabiri’s inspired free kick from a narrow angle, when most other players would have opted for a cross instead of a shot, gave Morocco the surprise lead, and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s chip from a cutback pass sealed a stunning 2-0 victory over a hugely disappointing Belgium side at the Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.
Belgium’s performance was, to say the least, insipid, uninspired and sluggish. It should be impossible for a side featuring Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel — even the well-aged version of these players — to look so toothless in attack, even as they generated plenty of chances that were wasted.
But Morocco, both of whose goals were scored by substitutes, understood the game plan and executed it well. They defended deeply, and looked for Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi on the break. They took advantage of their set-pieces, momentarily taking the lead in first-half stoppage time from a Ziyech free kick before a Moroccan player was ruled offside.
Belgium played as if the match was a quaint Sunday league game, while the Atlas Lions of Morocco displayed energy and directness that the world’s second-ranked team could not cope with.
The victory was Morocco’s first at the World Cup since they defeated Scotland in 1998. Sabiri curled a wide freekick past Thibaut Courtois in the 73rd minute before Aboukhlal netted in the second minute of stoppage time to put Morocco top of Group F with four points, one ahead of Belgium.
They will need just a draw in their final game to advance to the knockout phase.
“We scored at the right moment. We deserved to win. After 70 minutes some of our players were tired, but the way the crowd got behind us, they really helped us. They gave us a big boost,” said man of the match Ziyech.
Written with inputs from NYTNS and Reuters