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World Cup 2022: Brilliant substitutes propel Morocco past high-ranking Belgium

11:26 PM SGT 27/11/22
Morocco celebrate vs Belgium.
Morocco have caused another World Cup upset after beating high-ranking Belgium 2-0 on Sunday in their second group game.
  • Morocco looked more ambitious in the second half
  • World number two suffer upset in Qatar
  • Substitutes make the difference for the Atlas Lions

WHAT HAPPENED? Second-half substitutes Zakaria Aboukhlal and Abdelhamid Sabiri scored the goals that stunned the Belgians. But before that, there was plenty of action at both ends of the pitch.

Morocco broke up a Belgian attack in the first minute and released Hakim Ziyech on the right flank. The forward made his way past Timothy Castagne and attempted to set up Youssef En-Nesyri, but the pass was too far for the centre-forward.

Thorgan Hazard’s sixth-minute pass in between Achraf Hakimi and Nayef Aguerd found Mitchy Batshuayi, but the Belgian forward was denied by Munir Mohamedi, who parried the ball away for a corner.

The Atlas Lions preferred sitting deep and allowed Belgium to possess the ball around. However, the Africans got a chance to break down Ziyech’s wing, and the Chelsea forward attempted a 25-yard dipping shot, which flew wide.

Ziyech had another chance but could not keep his shot low enough to put Thibaut Courtois under pressure in the 35th minute. The forward overlapped and met the ball, beating Thorgan Hazard, but at a tight angle, he smacked the ball over.

Morocco came close to breaking the deadlock in the 56th minute when Sofiane Boufal managed to beat Thomas Meunier, and tried to find the far corner. However, the ball slid wide as the Europeans survived a well-coordinated attack from their opponents.

Mohamedi made two good saves to deny Belgium goals in the 65th and 66th minutes. In the first instance, he stopped Dries Mertens’ attempt before he collected a deflected shot from Batshuayi, who could not shake off Aguerd.

Coach Walid Regragui’s changes paid off incredibly as Sabiri, who came on for Selim Amallah, managed to find the back of the net with a neatly delivered effort that Courtois could not find in the 73rd minute.

Morocco produced another magical moment in the second minute of added time and scored the second goal.

Ziyech engineered a brilliant attack and, with his right foot, squared the ball for substitute Aboukhlal, who found the back of the net to propel the Africans to their first win in the tournament.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: The Africans superbly contained the Europeans, especially in the midfield.

Although they allowed Belgium to possess the ball for the better part of the encounter, they read their forward moves, thus limiting their chances of causing problems.

Belgian left holes in their defensive department as they attacked looking for goals. Morocco looked to have studied them and took advantage of such situations to score their second goal.

THE VERDICT: Morocco’s were lively along the Ziyech-Hakimi wing, and Belgium regularly struggled to keep the two in check.

The Saiss-Aguerd pairing at the heart of the defence also proved solid, as they were in their opening game.

The second-half changes played critical roles for the Atlas Lions as they looked more ambitious going forward. Courtesy of those changes, they scored their second goal, which is the first goal of the competition, from a direct free kick.

ALL EYES ON: After the two first group games, eyes will be keen on how Regragui will next line up his charges in search of the second win in the tournament.

Given the impact his substitutes had on the game, he could be tempted to give them starting berths.

WHAT NEXT FOR MOROCCO: The Atlas Lions will play Canada in their final group game on December 1 at the Al Thumama Stadium.