Morocco pulls off another World Cup upset, beats Belgium 2-0

Nov 26, 2022, 5:06 PM | Updated: Nov 27, 2022, 12:10 pm
Canada's Alphonso Davies, left, scores the opening goal during the World Cup group F soccer match b...

Canada's Alphonso Davies, left, scores the opening goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

              Canada's Alphonso Davies, left, scores the opening goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Morocco's Romain Saiss, back left, Abdelhamid Sabiri, front left, Zakaria Aboukhlal, front right, and goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi, back right, react after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Morocco players celebrate after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Canada's Alphonso Davies, left, scores the opening goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Morocco's Romain Saiss, back left, Abdelhamid Sabiri, front left, Zakaria Aboukhlal, front right, and goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi, back right, react after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Morocco players celebrate after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Canada's Alphonso Davies, left, scores the opening goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Morocco's Romain Saiss, back left, Abdelhamid Sabiri, front left, Zakaria Aboukhlal, front right, and goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi, back right, react after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Morocco players celebrate after the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Morocco's Abdelhamid Sabiri, not in the frame, scores his side's first goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
            
              Morocco's Abdelhamid Sabiri celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
            
              Morocco's Sofiane Boufal reacts after a shot on goal during the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
            
              Morocco's Romain Saiss, right, fights for the ball with Belgium's Eden Hazard, during the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Morocco pulled off yet another World Cup shock on Sunday, and Belgium’s aging “Golden Generation” took the hit this time.

The 2-0 upset left Kevin de Bruyne and the 2018 semifinalists in peril of a group-stage exit at what is likely the final World Cup for a highly-talented Belgian group that haven’t managed to convert their promise into prizes.

It might now be too late.

De Bruyne didn’t drive Belgium forward against Morocco, captain Eden Hazard was taken off after an hour, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was probably at fault for the opening goal.

“We haven’t seen the best Belgium yet,” said Roberto Martinez, a Spaniard who has coached the team for six years. “We haven’t been ourselves.”

Belgium could have become the second team behind defending champion France to advance to the last 16 if it beat Morocco. But it dropped from first to third in Group F and now plays against 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia trying to avoid its earliest elimination since 1998.

Morocco captain Romain Saiss gave his team the lead with a barely noticeable deflection off his hip after a free kick from Abdelhamid Sabiri in the 73rd minute that got under the body of Courtois — for many, the best goalkeeper in the world.

Zakaria Aboukhlal guided a shot into the roof of the net off a pass from Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time to make it 2-0 as Belgium’s defense, boasting more than 300 international appearances but anchored by two players in their mid-30s, was beaten by a speedy 22-year-old forward playing at his first World Cup.

Morocco’s players kneeled and pressed their heads to the ground in prayer, then leapt up in celebration. Pulling himself up from the ground, Courtois just shook his head.

The second big upset at the first World Cup in the Middle East involved another Arabic nation. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in the opening set of group games.

Morocco, which was roared on by thunderous noise from its fans at Al Thumama Stadium, had started in Qatar with a promising 0-0 draw with Croatia.

“We are delighted with that after Croatia and Belgium,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said. “That’s absolutely outstanding for Morocco.”

Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, had won its last seven group games at the World Cup before the upset, but that included a labored 1-0 win over Canada to open this year’s tournament.

Even De Bruyne said in a media interview before the World Cup that Belgium’s squad was likely too old to win now.

“I don’t think any comments will affect a result or a performance,” Martinez said, dismissing the suggestion that De Bruyne’s interview might have unsettled Belgium.

Morocco had to make a change right before kickoff when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou felt unwell but the North Africans were unaffected and clinched their first win at a World Cup since 1998 and only their third ever. Morocco moved to four points and Croatia is also on four points after beating Canada later Sunday. Belgium has three points and Canada has been eliminated.

Morocco has only ever been past the group stage once at a World Cup, in 1986. And things were in turmoil ahead of the tournament after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired and Regragui was brought in at the end of August, less than three months before the World Cup. Regragui had only three friendlies to make his mark on the team before facing Croatia at the World Cup.

ZIYECH RECALLED

Regragui immediately recalled Ziyech, a Chelsea winger who was exiled from the team under Halilhodzic because of a rift between them. Ziyech curled in a disallowed free kick in the first half, set up the second goal, and was Morocco’s best player against Belgium.

BELGIAN DESPERATION

Martinez brought on forward Romelu Lukaku, the country’s record scorer, as a substitute with less than 10 minutes to go in a desperate attempt to get one back when it was 1-0. Lukaku is only just returning from a left thigh problem and Belgium has missed him dearly. Martinez might be forced to start him against Croatia.

WHO SCORED?

Sabiri was initially credited with the first goal from his free kick, but FIFA later amended the official match report to give it to Saiss.

WHAT’S NEXT

The final group games are on Thursday, when Morocco will come back to Al Thumama Stadium to play Canada. Belgium will face Croatia at the same time.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE -Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of b...
Associated Press

Memorable LeBron James moments as he closes in on NBA record

As LeBron James closes in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and is about to become the NBA’s career scoring leader the journey has included several memorable moments. And there have been many. Many. Through 20 seasons and four NBA championships, the list of James’ unforgettable nights is immeasurably long. But here are five that stand out. THE […]
1 day ago
Tottenham's Harry Kane greets supporters after the English Premier League soccer match between Fulh...
Associated Press

Harry Kane has records in sight, but trophies elude him

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Harry Kane will become Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer with a goal against Manchester City on Sunday. The striker’s wait for a major trophy, however, will go on. Kane is set to surpass the late Jimmy Greaves’ club record of 266 goals, which has stood for 53 years. He is also tied […]
1 day ago
FILE- Gene Sykes claps after City Council voted 12-0 to endorse documents at the heart of its plan ...
Associated Press

USOPC: Russian pathway possible, but sanctions must remain

The new leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reiterated the federation’s support for exploring a way for Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics as neutrals, while insisting the current sanctions against the country remain in place. Gene Sykes, who took over for Susanne Lyons as USOPC chair on Jan. 1, wrote […]
1 day ago
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL...
Associated Press

All-Star festivities showcase next generation of NHL stars

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New Jersey Devils players watch from the bench often and marvel at some of the things Jack Hughes can do on the ice. “Every game, at least a couple times, I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s amazing,'” forward Michael McLeod said. “He just gets it done every night.” […]
1 day ago
Youth team players warm-up ahead of the Black star water polo competition held at the University of...
Associated Press

Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity

Back at the very beginning, right when the idea of water polo in Ghana started swimming into reality, Asante Prince got out a couple of balls and caps in front of a handful of curious kids. He decided to try a scrimmage, but he had no nets. So they put a soccer bench on each […]
1 day ago
FILE - Austria's Katharina Liensberger speeds down the course during the first run of an alpine ski...
Associated Press

Austrian ski team aims to rediscover its magic at worlds

VIENNA (AP) — Only one skier in the 24-member Austrian squad for the upcoming world championships has won on the Word Cup circuit this season. A star coach left the women’s team mid-January. And “crisis” has become a common word on the ski-mad nation’s sport pages. Has the once dominating “Wunderteam” from Austria lost its […]
1 day ago
Morocco pulls off another World Cup upset, beats Belgium 2-0