Morocco were through to the World Cup knockouts for the first time in 36 years after beating Canada 2-1 in their final group stage match on Thursday at the Al-Thumama Stadium. The result, combined with Croatia’s 0-0 draw with Belgium, meant that Hakim Ziyech and his colleagues are through as group winners, with Croatia accompanying them as group runners-up as Kevin de Bruyne’s Belgium were eliminated.
Taking on a Canada side already eliminated from the World Cup, Morocco went ahead as early as the fourth minute after Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan’s howler.
Milan, who plays his club football with Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, passed the ball towards Morocco’s Ziyech, with the Chelsea player easily slotting home into the empty net from 30 yards out to give his side the early lead.
Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri made it 2-0 Morocco in the 23rd minute, expertly controlling an Achraf Hakimi pass before firing home past Milan.
Canada then reduced the deficit in the 40th minute through a Nayef Aguerd own-goal, with the West Ham United defender accidentally poking the ball into his own net. The own-goal was the 100th goal scored in this year’s World Cup.
The second half saw Morocco sitting back and soaking up pressure after pressure, with the likes of Alphonso Davies and Atiba Hutchinson trying their best to pry open the Moroccan defense but to no avail.
In the end Morocco managed to hang onto their lead until the end of the match, while Canada were condemned to lose their sixth consecutive World Cup game – a record equaled only by El Salvador who lost all three group games in the 1970 and 1982 World Cups.
Meanwhile, in Group F’s other match, Croatia managed to force Belgium, who are second in the current world rankings, to a goalless draw, which sealed the Red Devils’ exit from the competition.
The Belgians had been disappointing throughout the tournament – only winning 1-0 against Canada before succumbing to a shock 2-0 loss to Morocco, with their draw against Croatia acting as the final nail in their coffin.
The likes of De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Thibaut Courtois were some of the best talents that Belgium has produced in recent years, their “golden generation” so to speak. This crop of talent helped Belgium finish third in the 2018 World Cup and more were expected of them, as this could possibly be their last World Cup as a group due to their aging legs.
De Bruyne and Hazard are both 31, with the latter being plagued by injury since his move to Real Madrid back in 2019, while Lukaku were facing injury and form woes of his own. Courtois remained a fine goalkeeper in recent times, but his defensive partners in Jan Verthongen and Toby Alderweireld – also part of the “golden generation” are in the wrong end of their 30s.
Even De Bruyne himself acknowledged that the current Belgian side is “too old” to win the World Cup, which reportedly led to unrest within the Red Devils’ squad.
With Belgium on their way home from Qatar, Group F runners-up Croatia will face Group E winners Japan in the round of 16, while Group F winners Morocco will take on Group E runners-up Spain in their first World Cup knockout tie since 1986.