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Morocco Fulfills Third 2022 World Cup Group Stage Upset

By Jeff Stinger

The upsets continued on the seventh day of the 2022 FIFA World Cup as Morocco put Belgium on the rocks after pulling off a 2-0 victory. The Atlas Lions made their intentions clear as they put the second-ranked team in the world under pressure. Head coach Walid Regragui flaunted effective tactics against the Europeans while his players showed defensive grit, attacking persistence, and team chemistry that surprised everyone around the globe. They now have overflowing confidence heading into the next batch of matches as Group F leaders.

2022 FIFA World Cup Morocco vs. Belgium Highlights

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A monumental moment for North Africa

After a long hiatus from the World Cup, Morocco improved their scoreless opening game against Croatia with a 2-0 win against the Belgians. They moved to the top of Group F undefeated after two matches. At this point, the nation looks primed to maintain its position as the group winners despite coming in as (odds) underdogs to win. If this happens, it will be the first time that an African team ends up as the group winner at the prestigious competition.

Morocco has tough defenders in the mix. They already have two clean sheets in two games and will play Canada next. Although first-choice goalkeeper Bono fell ill right before kick-off and was replaced at the last minute by Munir Mohamedi, the backup goalkeeper did well and produced a handful of saves to keep a clean sheet. There’s no denying that the Belgians were challenged and struggled to penetrate the defensive third. Keeping things tidy against inexperienced Canadians should be more straightforward for Romain Saïss and the rest of the unit.

Bench impact

Both sides recorded ten shots on goal but Morocco, with four, had one more on target than the Europeans who held onto 67% of the possession. As much as the Belgians wanted to impose themselves on the contest, with nine corner kicks against Morocco’s one, they failed to convert the opportunities. The North African team registered its first World Cup win since 1998 by the final whistle. They last defeated Scotland 3-0 and also won a match against Portugal in 1986. They made it to the knockout round that year, their only appearance beyond the group stage. Morocco looks solid ahead of their clash against Canada as +109 match favorites.

The 2022 African Nations champions used their full quota of five substitutes. It turned out to have more impact than Belgium’s changes. Sabiri entered the pitch in the 68th minute to take over for midfielder Selim Amallah. He scored five minutes into his stint and recorded the country’s first-ever direct free-kick goal at the world cup and the first direct free-kick goal at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Meanwhile, Aboukhlal who joined the game in the 74th minute scored two minutes into stoppage time to bring Morocco its most memorable World Cup victory to date.

Contrasting results for contrasting squads

No one would have predicted a 2-0 win for the (odds) World Cup finalists. It was a long shot to keep the Belgians to a draw, more so execute a comfortable victory. A few months ago, Belgium topped the world rankings while their African opponents were 22nd. This tournament shows us that the best teams on paper don’t always prevail.

Belgium, who forced a 1-0 win over Canada in their opening game, hardly looked like their old self who finished third in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They now have to battle confident Croatia for a last-16 spot following a poor display. The favorites to top the group are now on the verge of leaving the tournament early. Coach Roberto Martinez needs to regain his squad’s composure back for them to keep their World Cup chances going.

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