Morocco boosted their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup with an impressive 2-0 win over Belgium.
Belgium were once again underwhelming, with great names on paper, but the performance on the pitch looked disconnected. They hardly ever managed to string together attacking patterns of play and looked overall lethargic in attack.
Morocco on the other hand, were valiant. A clear plan, executed to perfection. They created their own good luck with the first goal, while their second goal summed up their performance.
Belgium’s star player Kevin De Bruyne did manage to get on the ball enough, he was certainly involved. But just couldn’t find a killer pass or anything remotely close to it, though his team-mates weren’t helping him much in that department.
Munir, the last-minute, or rather last-second replacement goalkeeper for Morocco, had a few saves to make, but nothing spectacular. Belgium simply didn’t test him.
In their first group game of this tournament, Belgium were extremely lucky to walk away with all three points, and their luck ran out against Morocco. They were slow and predictable, there was very little exchanging of positions to move about their opponents’ defence, no runs made in behind, and everyone wanted the ball played to feet. Batshuayi was particularly poor in attack, he looked lost at times. Not knowing if he should drop in to inter-link the play or run in behind, he often did neither. Edin Hazard looked good in moments and had a few moves up his sleeve where he looked like his twinkle-toed self from his Chelsea days. But the end product wasn’t there, the engine wasn’t there, the fear factor still seems to be all but gone. Belgium simply sleepwalked to a loss, the game passed them by. Leaving them exposed to the possibility of getting kicked out the World Cup at the group stage.
With this win, not only have Morocco stunned the football world, but they’ve given themselves a realistic chance to qualify from their World Cup group for only the second time in their history, and based on their performance, they deserve it. Walid Regragui set his team up to be defensively resilient, perhaps recognising that Belgium would have the technical edge should they go toe-to-toe. So they were happy to sit in at times, but once they got on the ball, it wasn’t a case of always booting a long ball up the pitch. They often got through Belgium’s mediocre press, played line-breaking passes and were brave in possession.
They were unlucky not to go into half-time 1-0 up, as Hakim Ziyech’s goal was chalked off by VAR for offside on Romain Saiss. So, they reloaded it. In the 73rd minute, they scored an almost identical goal, on the other side of the pitch, on the opposite side of the goal, this time whipped in by Abdelhamid Sabiri. Whether it was a cross or a shot, only he’ll know, but nonetheless it was put in with zing, and caught out Thibaut Courtois at his near post.
Then, the cherry on the cake, Morocco’s second goal. Two headers won by Hamdallah and by Aboukhlal, not because they were physically more imposing, but mainly because they simply wanted it more. Knocked down in to the path of Ziyech, who once again, took responsibility, driving forward, staying strong on the ball, before having the brilliant intelligence to pull it back to Aboukhlal, whose shot found the top corner. Cue mayhem in the Al Thumama Stadium. The 12th man roared again.
The players were brilliant, the manager’s system worked wonders, but the Moroccan fans were quite something else. They cheered and supported the entire game. The atmosphere was one of a home game, where the away fans were swallowed up. They were phenomenal, before, during and after the game.
TALKING POINT – BELGIUM DISAPPOINT AGAIN
Dubbed as the golden generation but once again the Belgian Red Devils have failed to wow us. The 2018 World Cup or the two Euros on either side of it may have been Belgium’s best chances of winning silverware, because they now look simply way off it. The likes of Vertonghen and Alderweireld are comfortably into their 30’s, Hazard isn’t the player he once was and Romelu Lukaku has entered a tricky spell in his career. De Bruyne and Courtois are still at the very top of the game, but that simply isn’t enough. The squad is ageing and stale. Once upon a time, great potential, but apart from 2018, never close to being fulfilled.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – HAKIM ZIYECH (MOROCCO)
The Chelsea man was at it all game. Whenever he got onto the ball, he tried to make something happen, a constant spark of positivity going forward for Morocco. Very unlucky to have his goal chalked off by VAR but his assist for the second goal summed up his performance.
BELGIUM: Courtois 4, Castagne 5, Alderweireld 6, Vertonghen 6, Meunier 6, Onana 6, Witsel 6, T Hazard 7, De Bruyne 6, E Hazard 6, Batshuayi 5.
SUBS: Tielemans 6, Mertens 6, Lukaku 5, Trossard 6, De Ketelaere 6.
MOROCCO: Munir 7, Hakimi 7, Saiss 7, Aguerd 7, Mazraoui 7, Ounahi 7, Amrabat 7, Amallah 6, Ziyech 8, En-Nesyri 6, Boufal 7.
SUBS: Yamiq 6, Attiyat Allah 6, Sabiri 7, Hamdallah 6, Aboukhlal 7.
GOAL!!!! MOROCCO LEAD. Commentators curse is real! Just as it seemed like the game was sleep walking into half-time, Morocco get a free-kick, which is whipped in by Ziyech, a half-cross, half-shot, and ends up in the back of Courtois’ net!
NO GOAL!! VAR INTERVENES. It appears Saiss was just half a yard offside. Not clear whether he got a touch or if he was merely blocking Courtois’ view. Either way we’re back to square one, 0-0.
GOAL FOR MOROCCO!! 1-0. Almost identical to Ziyech’s disallowed goal in the first half, a half-shot, half-cross kind of free kick from Sabiri, who has only been for five minutes. Courtois will feel disappointed, as it sneaks in at his near post.
ANOTHER GOAL!! ITS MOROCCO AGAIN. ITS 2-0! That goal sums up this Morocco performance, organised, full of energy, dangerous on the transition. Ziyech with a fantastic pull-back pass into Aboukhlal, who puts it top bins. Astonishing scenes!