- Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of the group
- They are through to the round of 16 for the first time in 36 years
- Croatia also went through as second in the group
For the first time in 36 years, Morocco have made it into the round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup after they edged out Canada 2-1 at the Al Thumama Stadium on Thursday evening to finish top of Group F.
The last time they were into the round of 16 was in 1986 and under local coach Walid Regragui, the Atlas Lions repeated that same piece of history in Doha, Qatar.
They had only two shots on target the entire game but it mattered less as from those two efforts, Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En Nessyri scored to hand them victory.
Despite Nayef Aguerd’s own goal in the second half, they held on to clinch the precious piece of victory. They are the second African country, after Senegal, to book a round of 16 slot.
Morocco had failed to make it out of the group stages in the last three editions, but they were determined to make amends this time round.
Led by coach Walid Regragui who took charge of the team just before the World Cup, the team was fueled after their 2-0 victory over Belgium in their previous match and they came into the tie against Canada with confidence.
Just needed a point to go through
They needed just a point to get through, but the Atlas Lions were going all out for a win.
It only took them 68 seconds to break the deadlock courtesy of a mistake from the Canadians. An attempt to play the ball from the back backfired on their faces with keeper Milan Borjan’s pass intercepted by Hakim Ziyech. The Chelsea man did the simplest of tasks, clipping the ball into an empty net with the shot stopper way advanced from his line.
The goal ignited belief for Morocco and they played with more confidence.
They doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when En Nesyri ran onto a long pass from Achraf Hakimi. He powered into the box under pressure from two defenders before shooting low into the net.
Five minutes to the break though, Canada pulled a goal back when Aguerd deflected a cross from Cyle Larin into his own net, wrong footing his keeper Bono.
In the second minute of added time, Morocco thought they had restored their two goal lead when En Nesyri volleyed the ball home, but it was flagged down for offside, with VAR confirming the on-field decision.
Canada come back determined
In the second half, Canada came in determined to get something off the match and they piled the pressure. They came closest in the 73rd minute when Atiba Hurchinson saw his header come off the underside of the bar from a Junior Hoilett corner.
Alistair Johnston followed up with the rebound but his effort went over.
With pressure mounting, Regragui made changes to his personnel, bringing in midfielder Yahya Jebrane to solidify the midfield. Morocco played with bodies in their own half to protect the lead.
In the round of 16, they will take on the runner up from Group E with Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and Germany in that group.