It may only be a group stage game, but Morocco’s win over Belgium has to be considered one of Africa’s greatest World Cup victories.
Fueled by ‘hometown’ partisan support at the Al Thumana Stadium in Doha, Morocco defeated Belgium 2-0 on Sunday to move up to the top of Group F on four points.
The Atlas Lions faced a two-game skid that was among the toughest for any team in the tournament: 2018 finalists Croatia, and then Belgium’s Golden Generation.
The North Africans, however, made sure that this once great Belgian side should be considered ‘has been’ rather than ‘could still be’ at international level, as the Red Devils are now faced with their own visceral morality.
Belgium have been one of the big disappointments of this tournament so far, fortuitously defeating a Canada team that looked much more resourceful and vibrant in their opening game, before falling to a Morocco team that had previously won just two games. in the history of the World Cup.
This win will surely go down as Atlas Lions’ most famous victory in the tournament.
It wasn’t as dazzling as Scotland’s 3-0 demolition in 1998, but it was balanced, controlled, defensively excellent and, critically, fully deserved.
Whether it eclipses a 3-1 win over Portugal in 1986 is up for debate, as the North Africans closed out an unbeaten group stage with top points from their third game.
That game, of course, had important historical context, as the Lions became the first African team to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, but Portugal in the late 1980s was not as highly rated as Belgium. for this tournament.
The Selecao das Quinas were not among the bookmakers’ eight favorites for the Mexico tournament and were returning to the tournament for the first time since 1966. They had been beaten by Poland in their previous group match and were out of the match after 26 minutes when Morocco took a 2-0 lead.
Is this victory better?
Clearly Belgium may be a fading force, but they currently sit second in the FIFA World Rankings, behind only Brazil, and have been considered among the real contenders to go all the way to win their first crown.
In Kevin De Bruyne, they have one of the best players in world football, Thibaut Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world, while the likes of Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Toby Alderweireld and Romelu Lukaku made an excellent supporting cast.
The only time an African team defeated a higher ranked team in the FIFA world rankings at the World Cup was in 2002, when Senegal defeated France, while Ghana also defeated the second ranked team in the world. , then Czech Republic, to pull off a big kill in the 2006 tournament.
This victory deserves at the same time as those other great outings, and like Senegal in 2002 and Ghana four years later, Morocco was a worthy firm winner against the European heavyweights.
Both teams reached the round of 16, with Senegal of course becoming the second African team to reach the quarterfinals.
With Canada coming into their last game and knowing that a draw will be enough to advance, Morocco has an absolute golden opportunity to advance.
Now they should even aim for the last eight, knowing that a draw in their last game could even be enough to top the group if the two European teams draw in their last game on Thursday.
Winning the group would potentially mean avoiding Spain in the round of 16, pitting the Lions against Japan, Costa Rica or Germany… a delicious revenge of their last World Cup knockout game, in Mexico, 36 years ago.