FIFA World Cup 2022: Croatia reached the last 16 of the World Cup on Thursday after a 0-0 draw against Belgium, whose group-stage exit will break down its talented but underachieving generation of players. The Eastern European nation has reached at least the semifinals both times it has reached the knockout stages.
Belgium failed to live up to its status as the second-ranked team and one of the tournament favorites, scoring one goal in three games. Desperately needing a win to advance, Belgium produced their best performance of the World Cup and squandered two clear chances that fell to Romelu Lukaku.
The halftime substitute had a shot against the post and failed to control the ball as it bounced off his chest. Belgium’s so-called “golden generation” now has six players with more than 100 appearances, with its peak set to break in 2018 with a World Cup semifinal appearance.
Morocco reached the last 16 of the World Cup for the second time with a 2-1 win over Canada on Thursday. The win put them top of Group F ahead of 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia and semifinalists Belgium. Croatia finished second and 2nd ranked Belgium made a surprise exit after a 0-0 draw.
The Moroccans’ only trip past the group stage came in 1986. Morocco & Croatia qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup knockouts from Group F. Hakim Ziyech scored for Morocco in the fourth minute when Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan left the winger and fired the ball into an empty net.
Youssef N-Nesiri added his second in the 23rd. Morocco seemed to occupy the Canadians. But Nayef Agurd’s own goal just before halftime made it 2-1 and lifted Canada to pressure Morocco for an equalizer for much of the second half.
Canada came closest in the second half when a header from substitute captain Atiba Hutchinson bounced off the crossbar and over the goal line. Canada, which will host the next World Cup in 2026 along with the United States and Mexico, was eliminated before the Morocco game.
In their only World Cup appearance in 1986, they ended up losing all three of their games in Qatar, with three defeats. Moroccan squad players jump up and down in a huddle near the dugout well before the final whistle and coach Waleed Regragui smiles broadly and waves his hands in celebration.
Morocco brushed aside doubts that Regargui’s appointment three months before the World Cup would hurt their chances of reaching the last 16. Morocco opened their Qatar campaign with a morale-boosting draw against Croatia and then beat Belgium 2-0. The result is international soccer.
Morocco has now won more games in this World Cup than all of their previous appearances at the tournament combined and is on course for their best performance in the tournament. The North African nation’s only major international soccer title came at the 1976 African Cup of Nations.
A Canadian error gifted Morocco the first goal at the Al Tumama Stadium when Steven Vitoria’s back pass put goalkeeper Borjan under pressure. But instead of clearing downfield, Borjan inexplicably side-footed the ball delicately in the direction of Ziyech, who chipped it first time past Borjan and into the unguarded goal.
For the second goal, Achraf Hakimi’s long ball fell between Canada defenders Vitoria and Kamal Miller, and N-Nesiri chased it past Borjan to put Morocco in control. Canada got one back when Sam Adekugbe’s cross was deflected off Aguerde’s right foot and off the right glove of goalkeeper Yassin Bounau with another touch.
Buona returned in goal for Morocco after missing Belgium’s win when he fell ill minutes before kickoff and had to be replaced. Canada came close to avoiding defeat for the first time in its six World Cup matches when Hutchinson rose above the defenders around him in a corner and headed goalward.
The ball hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced off the line and Alastair Johnston was unable to force in a follow-up header. Replays showed that part of the ball crossed the line but not all