DOHA, Qatar – Moroccan fans celebrated on Thursday, December 1 (Friday, December 2, Manila time) as their country became the only Arab nation to reach the knockout rounds of the first World Cup held in an Arab country, dancing and cheering in the stadium in Qatar and on the streets back home.
An impassioned Moroccan team clinched a spot in the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time since 1986 by defeating the already-eliminated Canadians, 2-1, mercilessly capitalizing on their opponents’ blunders.
Morocco, who needed a win or a draw in their final Group F match to reach the knockout rounds, took advantage of a weak clearance by goalkeeper Milan Borjan that landed on the foot of Hakim Ziyech.
Cheered on by a boisterous crowd of Moroccan fans, midfielder Ziyech effortlessly lobbed the ball over the stranded goalkeeper to open scoring in the fourth minute.
Borjan had been placed in an unenviable position by central defender Steven Vitoria, whose weak back pass forced the goalkeeper to race Moroccan forward Youssef En-Nesyri to the ball.
En-Nesyri remained dangerous throughout the first half, doubling Morocco’s lead in the 23rd minute when he ran onto a long ball from Achraf Hakimi and beat Borjan at the near post.
En-Nesyri also thumped a volley into the Canadian net during stoppage time in the first half but that goal was ruled offside.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Hakimi wept after the match.
“I didn’t think about it, but now I realize we made history,” he said. “We work very hard and we deserve it.”
With Croatia drawing with Belgium 0-0 in the other Group F game, Morocco finished first in the group and will face Spain, the second-place finishers in Group E.
Moroccan manager Walid Regragui predicted his side will prove capable of challenging a mighty opponent in the stage.