DOHA – Morocco qualified for the World Cup round of 16 for the first time in 36 years on Thursday with a 2-1 victory over exiting Canada.
The goals of Hakim Ziyash and Youssef Al-Nusairi ensured that North Africa occupied the top of Group F before Croatia, the runner-up of the 2018 World Cup. Morocco, which reached the last knockout stage in the 1986 World Cup, will face the runner-up of Group E in the round of sixteen, with the identity of its opponents determined later Thursday.
Canada’s defeat, meanwhile, capped off a disappointing World Cup for CONCACAF, who departed after losing all three of their group stage matches in their long-awaited return to the finals. Morocco put themselves firmly into the second round after beating Belgium 2-0 on Sunday, a result that left them needing just one point against Canada on Thursday to make sure of progress.
The achievement of this goal was never in doubt after the Moroccans clinched the lead after just four minutes in front of 43,102 fans at Al Thumama Stadium. Canadian captain and goalkeeper Milan Borgan sprinted from his line to deflect an underhand backpass from Steven Vittoria, but couldn’t help but watch in horror as the ball fell to Morocco’s Ziyech.
The Chelsea star mercilessly seized the opportunity, calmly lifting the finish on a 1-0 Borgan stranded in an empty net. That early setback finished off Canada, which struggled to gain any kind of foothold against a rampant Morocco that was soon up 2-0. Right-back Achraf Hakimi’s long ball took a nap for the Canadian defence, and En-Nesyri lunged back before firing home at the near post to beat Borjan.
Canada pulled a goal behind in a rare forward attack five minutes after half-time when defender Sam Adekogbe cut across from the left and volleyed in a low cross. As for defender Naif Ajourd, his leg was hit and the ball hit the net of Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, making the score 2-1.
Morocco thought they had restored their two-goal advantage in first-half stoppage time when En-Nesyri fired home from eight yards only for it to be ruled offside. Canada started the second half brightly, with Alphonso Davies hitting a wide shot after a promising attack.
But Morocco fell deeper and Canada lacked the creativity to pose a serious threat. Their best chance to equalize came from a set piece in the 71st minute, when substitute Atyppa Hutchinson’s header from a corner kick hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced off the goal line.
Full-back Alistair Johnston failed to control the rebound and Morocco’s lead remained intact. Canada’s captain Borgan was almost caught again in another precarious stoppage-time lead, but Davies was on hand to head off the danger before the raucous Moroccan crowd erupted in celebration at the whistle.