Morocco booked their place in the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 1986 with a 2-1 win over Canada on Thursday.
The Atlas Lions went into the clash at Al Thumama Stadium in a strong position in Group F, knowing just a single point would see them into the last 16 following a 2-0 win over Belgium and the goalless draw with Croatia.
And Morocco didn’t waste any time against an already-eliminated Canada, with Hakim Ziyech firing home from midway inside the opposition half in the fourth minute after goalkeeper Milan Borjan inexplicably played the ball right into his path.
Walid Regragui’s side pressed the advantage and found a second goal in the 23rd minute as Youssef En-Nesyri raced behind the slow Canadian backline to meet a glorious pass from Achraf Hakimi. The Sevilla striker – who had another goal ruled out for offside later on – made no mistake with his finish, blasting the ball inside Borjan’s near post.
Completely against the run of play, Canada pulled one back right before half-time with Sam Adekugbe’s dangerous cross hitting the unlucky Nayef Aguerd and wrong-footing goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Some changes to the midfield early in the second half added composure and creativity to the Canadian ranks, and Les Rouges piled on the pressure in the closing half-hour. Veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson even rattled the crossbar in the 72nd minute, coming within inches of scoring on what is likely his final appearance for Canada.
However, it wasn’t to be for Canada, who head home still awaiting their first-ever World Cup point. Morocco, meanwhile, top Group F against all the odds to face the second-place team from Group E.
GK: Milan Borjan – 2/10 – Made a terrible error for Morocco’s first and was beaten at his near post for the second.
CB: Alistair Johnston – 6/10 – Not to blame for either goal and put in a solid shift both offensively and defensively.
CB: Steven Vitoria – 3/10 – Sold Borjan a little short on the first goal and was exposed for the second.
CB: Kamal Miller – 5/10 – Didn’t cover himself in glory on Morocco’s second goal but recovered well to enjoy a solid second half.
RWB: Tajon Buchanan – 5/10 – Missed a good chance at the far post in the 15th minute. Failed to really test Morocco after that.
CM: Mark-Anthony Kaye – 4/10 – Looked a little lost in the midfield, coming second-best to a number of loose balls.
CM: Jonathan Osorio – 4/10 – Like Kaye, Osorio looked a couple of seconds behind play. Not his day.
LWB: Sam Adekugbe – 7/10 – Forced Canada’s goal with a driving run and dangerous cross. Always tried to provide an outlet.
RF: Junior Hoilett – 8/10 – Canada’s best player by quite a distance. Always tried to take the game to Morocco and used his experience to win key fouls.
ST: Cyle Larin – 5/10 – One threatening cross aside, Larin was a bystander. Completed just five passes all game.
LF: Alphonso Davies – 6/10 – Wasn’t short of ideas or confidence, but just tried to do too much on his own. Needed more frequent and better service from his teammates.
SUB: Atiba Hutchinson (60′, for Kaye) – 8/10 – Added composure to the Canadian midfield and came so close to scoring on his final appearance for Canada. What a fairytale moment that would have been.
SUB: Jonathan David (60′, for Larin) – 5/10 – Didn’t find his rhythm.
SUB: Ismael Kone (60′, for Adekugbe) – 8/10 – Looked way ahead of his 20 years of age. Composed, quick, and progressive with the ball.
SUB: Richie Laryea (65′, for Osorio) – 6/10 – Was aggressive but, ultimately, didn’t change the game.
SUB: David Wotherspoon (76′, for Hoilett) – N/A – Never got going.
GK: Yassine Bounou – 6/10 – Caught out by a deflection for Canada’s goal. Didn’t really have much else to do.
RB: Achraf Hakimi – 8/10 – Provided a wonderful long-range pass behind the Canadian defence for En-Nesyri’s goal and was a constant threat going forward.
CB: Nayef Aguerd – 6/10 – Very unlucky to have scored an own goal but did fine otherwise.
CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Provided composure to the Moroccan backline, with and without the ball.
LB: Noussair Mazraoui – 6/10 – Never really got into the game with most of Morocco’s play going down the right. Did fine defensively.
CM: Abdelhamid Sabiri – 6/10 – Tidy enough for 65 minutes.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 8/10 – Continues to impress at this tournament with his metronomic passing and relentless defensive work.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 7/10 – Kept the ball moving with some quick passing and driving runs.
RW: Hakim Ziyech – 8/10 – Took full advantage of Borjan’s error to open the scoring and always looked on the edge of doing something spectacular.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – 9/10 – Scored one goal and had another cruelly disallowed for offside. Used his pace and strength to good effect against a struggling Canadian defence.
LW: Sofiane Boufal – 8/10 – Quick and creative. Kept the Canadians walking a tightrope by drawing fouls in dangerous areas.
SUB: Zakaria Aboukhlal (65′, for Boufal) – 3/10 – Barely touched the ball.
SUB: Selim Amallah (65′, for Sabiri) – 6/10 – Hardly got on the ball but helped keep Canada at bay.
SUB: Abderrazak Hamdallah (76′, for Ziyech) – 5/10 – Struggled to hold the ball up.
SUB: Jawad El Yamiq (77′, for Ounahi) – 5/10 – Didn’t really change the game.
SUB: Yahya Jabrane (85′, for Hakimi) – N/A – Not enough time to get going.
Player of the match – Youssef En-Nesyri
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