from HUSSEIN HUSSAIN in Doha, Qatar
DOHA, (CAJ News) – MOROCCO have booked a place in the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1986, when they became the first African side to attain that feat.
Here in Qatar, they are the second team from the continent to advance to the Last 16 after a beating Canada 2-1 at the Al Thumama on Thursday. Senegal are also through.
By securing a place in the Last 16, they became the third African team to finish atop a World Cup Group together with Cameroon (Italia 90) and Nigeria (USA 94 and France 98).
The Moroccans had been the first to attain that feat in 1986 in Mexico when they finished ahead of the fancied England, Poland and Portugal.
At that tournament, West Germany knocked them out.
After their win over favourites Belgium and a draw against Croatia, the Atlas Lions came to the capital Doha in need of a single point but emerged with all three against a Canadian side that had already been eliminated but playing for pride.
But there was more humiliation for them as early as the fourth minute when goalkeeper Milan Borjan inexplicably gifted Hakim Ziyech the ball, the attacking midfielder reacting with a deft chip from outside the area.
Moroccan dominance paid off in the 23rd minute as Youssef En-Nesyri finished off a great assist by Achraf Hakimi.
Complacency apparently crept into coach Walid Regragui’s side, and they duly paid after Nayef Aguerd beat his own goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, at the near post.
It was the first own goal of the tournament and the first goal Morocco conceded in Qatar.
The second half was devoid of goals but the Maple Leafs caused the North Africans some scares.
In the end, Morocco held on for a famous victory to qualify alongside Croatia, who drew 0-0 versus Belgium at the Ahmed bin Ali, also on Thursday.
In the knockout stage, Morocco will play the runners in Group E, led by Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and Germany, in that order.
– CAJ News