Morocco claimed their first World Cup victory in 24 years as they upset a hugely disappointing Belgium side 2-0 with goals by Romain Saiss and substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal in a boiling atmosphere on Sunday.
The Morocco fans gave the match a vintage World Cup feel at the Al Thumama Stadium and Sabiri curled a wide free kick past Thibaut Courtois before Aboukhlal netted in added time to put Morocco top of Group F with four points, one ahead of Belgium.
It was Morocco’s first win at a World Cup since they beat Scotland in 1998. They left the 2018 tournament with a single point.
“We played against one of the best teams in the world with big players, but we know that if you don’t give 100%, it is impossible to win. With these players and these fans, anything is possible,” said Morocco coach Walid Regregui, whose team have not conceded a goal in five games since he took over in September.
Belgium, who had scraped a 1-0 win over Canada in their opening game, again looked a pale shadow of the team who finished third in 2018 and climbed to second in the world rankings. They must now battle for a last-16 spot against Croatia.
“It’s a difficult result. We couldn’t get our game going. It’s a game we need to understand; we need to be together and react. That’s what happens at the World Cup,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.
The Red Devils’ poor display even forced Martinez to send Romelu Lukaku on for the last 10 minutes in a desperate attempt to salvage a point, even though the burly striker had been struggling with a hamstring problem.
Croatia, who have a point from their draw with Morocco, play Canada in the other Group F game later on Sunday.
In a lively start, Morocco looked happy to sit and wait amid the deafening whistles of their fans, although bouts of intense pressing led to a couple of dangerous counter-attacks with Ziyech the main threat.
As Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne struggled to find his range and Eden Hazard remained largely ineffective, Morocco looked safe.
Courtois was beaten for the first time in the tournament when Ziyech fired a free kick into the pack and it bounced past the keeper at the near post on the stroke of halftime.
Saiss, however, was marginally offside and referee Carlos Ramos ruled the goal out after a VAR review as the Besiktas defender was obstructing Courtois’ view.
Morocco started to fancy their chances and were more on the attack with Sofiane Boufal’s shot from just inside the box going just wide after the break.
Belgium were out of sorts and Martinez sent Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens on to replace Amadou Onana and Eden Hazard.
Mertens had an immediate impact, forcing El Kajoui, who stood in minutes before kickoff for Yassine Bounou, into a superb save with a fierce shot.
Morocco substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri whipped in an angled free kick similar to the one that led to the ruled-out goal in the first half, and Courtois could only fumble the ball into the net.
Saiss was also in the way, but onside this time, and he was later credited with getting a touch to score the goal.
Morocco defended tooth and nail until they found another opening two minutes into stoppage time, with Aboukhlal clipping Ziyech’s cross into the roof of the net as the stadium boiled over.
Some players kneeled down and put their heads to the ground in prayer with a sea of Morocco flags in the background, while others were waving Saudi and Palestinian flags in a show of pan-Arab support.