Atlas Lions make giant leap towards knock-outs

Morocco's forward #14 Zakaria Aboukhlal celebrates scoring his team's second goal during theIR Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F match against Belgium at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 27, 2022.
 

Photo credit: Fadel Senna | AFP

What you need to know:

  • They can get out of the group, and with four points already in the bag they will face Canada with a lot of confidence after ably handling two of the best nations in Europe.
  • The Moroccon support is huge here in Qatar. Thousands must have made the trip here and will be backing the team all the way.

In Doha

One fact that is not often spoken of is that Morocco was the first African country in the history of the World Cup to qualify for the round of 16.

The Atlas Lions attained this feat in Mexico 1986. They topped their group unbeaten after showing little respect to a trio of European giants, England, Portugal and Poland.

They drew 0-0 with both England and Poland before crushing Portugal 3-1.

Playing against European powers is something the Atlas Lions seem to relish.

They showed good organisation to neutralise Croatia 0-0 in their opening Group Flast Wednesday and then made a mockery of the world rankings and the so-called Belgian golden generation with an assured 2-0 win at an energetic Al Thumama Stadium.

Substitute Abdelhamid Sabri directed into the net a free kick from the tightest of angles near the corner flag to open the scoring midway through the second half as the Al Thumama grounds exploded into a cacophony of chants and screams you could not hear yourself think.

Playing with swagger, the African nation guaranteed itself all three points at the end of regulation time, another substitute Zakari Aboukhlal smashing home a wonderful delivery from the impressive Chelsea forward Hakim Zeyich following a superb diagonal run.

Ziyech, who was given man of the match said: “We played a strong game and we scored at the right time. This was a teamwork effort.”

After a cagey opening period Belgium began to dominate possession with Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne working to control the midfield.

Morocco gradually got into the game and by the end  of the final whistle they thoroughly deserved the win.  They even had one goal disallowed by VAR for off-side

Morocco coach Walid Regragui was cheered by the contingent of Moroccan journalists as he stepped in for the press conference.

He acknowledged the applause but kept his feet on the ground.

“We played one of the best teams in the world. We know if we did not give 100 per cent we would not win. But with the right spirit and play we would. But that is four points which is not enough. We now have to think about Canada in our final group match,” he said.

But he must have savoured that win considering the way Morocco played with an assuredness that belied their ranking, The Atlas Lions are ranked a good 20 places below second placed Belgian.

Said a dejected Belgium coach Roberto Martinez: “This was a difficult game. Before the goal I feel we were in control. In a tight game that first goal makes a lot of difference. As a team we are not at our best.”

If ever there was a statement of intent, Morocco served it last night.

They can get out of the group, and with four points already in the bag they will face Canada with a lot of confidence after ably handling two of the best nations in Europe.

The Moroccan support is huge here in Qatar. Thousands must have made the trip here and will be backing the team all the way.

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