Atlas Lions roar loudest than Belgium
After leading the Atlas Lions to a thrilling Group F victory over 2018 World Cup semifinalist Belgium, Walid Regragui became the first Moroccan coach to do so since 1998.
The two teams played out a goalless first half, as had happened in the 26 games before to kickoff, and were tied at halftime. However, Belgium would have been behind at halftime if it weren't for a VAR call in first-period injury time. Romain Sass was deemed to have interfered with play despite being in an offside position when Hakim Ziyech's left-footed cross-cum-shot crossed the goal line. Another reprieve for an underwhelming Belgium team in the World Cup.
Morocco leveraged the perceived injustice of the marginal offside ruling before the half to pressure Belgium, and the African team was rewarded with 17 minutes remaining. Similar to the earlier goal that was disallowed, Abdelhamid Sabiri this time supplied the whipped cross that Thibaut Courtois couldn't stop, and Romain Sass was waiting at the near post to nudge beyond the goalkeeper for the Red Devils. To the pleasure of the throngs of Moroccan fans inside the Al Thumama Stadium, there was no offside this time.
It has been 26 years since Belgium last suffered a group stage defeat, a 1-0 loss to a Saeed Al-Owairan-inspired Saudi Arabia in 1994. As a Middle Eastern country itself, it is fitting that Morocco, an Arab country, ended Belgium's streak of 13 consecutive victories in group stage matches. Zakaria Aboukhlal's strike in the 93rd minute gave Morocco a prestigious three points. The 22-year-old stroke a right-footed shot into the roof of the net, to seal the resounding victory for the Atlas Lions.
Belgium will now go into their final group stage match with Croatia on Thursday knowing they probably need a win to advance. Morocco's victory puts them in charge of their own destiny, and the Atlas Lions are now just one victory away from making only their second knockout round appearance in World Cup history.