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Belgium 0-2 Morocco: One of Africa’s greatest ever World Cup wins

9:09 PM IST 27/11/22
Achraf Hakimi & Morocco fans
It may just be a group stage match, but Morocco’s win over Belgium ought to be considered as one of Africa’s finest World Cup victories.

Fuelled by a partisan ‘home’ support at the Al Thumana Stadium in Doha, Morocco defeated Belgium 2-0 on Sunday to move up to top spot in Group F on four points.

The Atlas Lions faced a two-match run that was among the toughest for any team at the tournament--2018 finalists Croatia and then Belgium’s Golden Generation.

The North Africans, however, ensured that this once great Belgian side ought to be considered ‘has-beens’ rather than ‘still-might-bes’ at international level, as the Red Devils now face up to their own visceral morality.

Belgium have been one of the great disappointments of this tournament so far, fortuitously defeating a Canada side who looked far more inventive and vibrant in their opener, before now, falling to a Morocco team who had only previously won two matches in World Cup history.

This win will surely be considered the Atlas Lions’ most famous victory at the tournament.

It wasn’t as dazzling as the 3-0 demolition of Scotland in 1998, but it was balanced, controlled, defensively superb and—critically—fully deserved.

The debate is whether it eclipses the 3-1 victory over Portugal in 1986, as the North Africans rounded off an unbeaten group stage with maximum points in their third match.

That match, of course, had major historical context, as the Lions became the first African team to reach the World Cup knockouts, but Portugal in the late 80s were nothing like as highly rated as Belgium were heading into this tournament.

The Selecao das Quinas weren’t named among bookies’ top eight favourites for the tournament in Mexico, and were returning to the tournament for the first time since 1966. They’d been defeated by Poland in their previous group game, and were out of the contest after 26 minutes as Morocco tore into a 2-0 lead.

Is this victory better?

Belgium may clearly be a fading force, but they are currently second in the Fifa World Rankings—behind only Brazil—and had been considered among the genuine contenders to go the distance and win their first crown.

In Kevin De Bruyne, they boast one of the finest players in the world game, Thibaut Courtois is the world’s top keeper, while the likes of Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Toby Alderweireld and Romelu Lukaku made for an outstanding supporting cast.

The only time that an African team have beaten a side ranked higher in the Fifa World Rankings at the World Cup was in 2002, when Senegal defeated France, while Ghana also defeated the team ranked second in the world—then the Czech Republic—to pull off a major killing in the 2006 tournament.

This victory deserves in the same breath as those other great outings, and like Senegal in ’02 and Ghana four years later, Morocco were firmly worthy winners against European heavyweights.

Both of those two sides reached the knockouts, with Senegal of course becoming the second African side to reach the quarters.

With Canada to come in their final game, and knowing that a draw will be enough to progress, Morocco have an absolutely golden opportunity to advance.

They should now even be aiming for the Last Eight, knowing that a draw in their final game could even be enough to top the group if the two European sides draw in their final match on Thursday.

Winning the group would potentially mean avoiding Spain in the Last 16, setting the Lions up against Japan, Costa Rica or Germany…a mouth-watering rematch of their last World Cup knockout game, in Mexico, 36 years ago.