Morocco stun Belgium with famous World Cup victory to spark wild celebrations

Atlas Lions on the brink of knockout rounds after first tournament win in 24 years

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Morocco's supporters raised the roof at Al Thumama Stadium after their team secured a huge World Cup upset in Qatar with a 2-0 victory over Belgium on Sunday.

Late goals from Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal were enough to secure one of the most famous wins in African sporting history, never mind just in Moroccan folklore – their first at a World Cup in 24 years.

The vociferous fans turned it into a home match for the Atlas Lions, whistling every Belgian touch, and they were rewarded with an incredible performance and a win to rank alongside some of the biggest shocks in the tournament.

Belgium’s crown as group specialists at a World Cup, chasing a record ninth successive victory at this stage of competition, was knocked clean off.

Having seen Belgium labour to an unconvincing win in their group opener against Canada this week, Morocco sensed another shock was on the cards. In truth, the win was well deserved but they did not need to do too much against a team who looked a shadow of their former selves.

As a result, qualification for the knockout stages is far from guaranteed for this generation of Belgian talent. For Morocco, a win against Canada on Thursday will guarantee them a place in the Round of 16.

The game kicked off in the most baffling of circumstances as first-choice Morocco goalkeeper Bono lined up for the national anthem, but then seemed to complain about problems with his vision and was replaced in the starting XI by Munir.

It appeared Munir would be in for a difficult match after Michy Batshuayi forced him into a fine save early on, but that was as good as it got for a Belgium side who looked overawed by the partisan Moroccan crowd.

Slowly but surely, backed by their colourful, fervent following, Morocco grew into the contest, with Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi hammering a good chance wide as the Belgians retreated.

Moroccan pressure paid off as a Hakim Ziyech's dipping free-kick deceived Thibaut Courtois and flew into the net, before a VAR intervention ruled Romain Saiss to be offside and the goal was scratched.

The second half continued in a similar vein, with Belgium offering little threat. Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne especially cut a particularly frustrated figure as pass after pass went astray. He even misplaced some himself, such was the ineptitude of everyone in red.

Eden Hazard, the personification of a fading Belgium force, tested Munir with a long-range strike early in the second half, but it was routine, while Dries Mertens’ fine effort did at least require the Moroccan goalkeeper to be at his best.

The opener was eerily similar to the disallowed goal in the first half, in that Courtois really should have kept it out. Sabiri’s free-kick was whipped in with menace, Saiss was again the nearest to it and got the faintest of touches, with the ball then flying in off the leg of Courtois. There was no offside flag to rescue the Belgium goalkeeper this time.

Cue pandemonium in the stands, with every fan celebrating the huge breakthrough.

Belgium huffed and puffed, Romelu Lukaku came off the bench to try to inspire a comeback but they remained impotent in attack. Jan Vertonghen did have a header that rolled agonisingly wide, but otherwise the Red Devils did not look like scoring.

With Belgian shirts committed another substitute, Aboukhlal, converted at the near post in stoppage time to put the seal on the stunning success, with the World Cup knockout stages beckoning, for just the second time in Morocco’s history.

For Belgium, who will likely need to beat Croatia in their final group match to reach the last 16, the realisation that this could well be the end of the road for this team is really starting to hit home.

Updated: November 27, 2022, 6:56 PM