FIFA World Cup: Morocco and Croatia in last 16, Belgium out

Morocco scored two first-half goals to beat Canada 2-1 in their FIFA World Cup Group F match here on Thursday to advance to the last 16, while the two top-three finishers at the last World Cup ended in a goalless draw. The draw resulted in Croatia progressing to the knockouts while Belgium were eliminated at the group stage. At the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, world number two Belgium made a surprise decision not to feature experienced players like Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard in the starting XI.

The team also missed 21-year-old midfielder Amadu Onana. Onana was suspended after receiving two yellow cards. Belgium, however, had golden chances to score twice in the last three minutes of regular time, but both times Lukaku missed. First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech (4th minute) and Youssef N Nesri (23rd minute) helped world number 22 Morocco enter the knockout stages for the first time since 1986 at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium. Canada’s goal came from Noef Agward (40th minute) who scored an own goal. Morocco and Canada had faced each other only once before.

Morocco won the 2016 friendly match 4–0. Thanks to this victory, the Moroccan team remained on top with seven points from three matches with two wins and one draw. Croatia, a finalist four years ago, became the second team from Group F to make it to the last 16 with five points from one win and two draws. Belgium finished third in the last World Cup held in Russia in 2018 with four points from one win, one draw and one loss. Canada, who were eliminated from the tournament before the final match, could not score any points and finished in last place. Morocco will now face the second-placed team in Group E in the pre-quarterfinals on December 5, while Croatia will take on the Group E toppers on the same day.

World No. 12 Croatia started well against Belgium. Croatia dominated the opening minutes but Belgium had chances to score. On the first occasion, Yannick Carrasco failed to get the ball into the goal despite finding the ball near the goal on a cross from the right end. Two minutes later, on a similar move, the ball reached Dries Mertens but he also hit the ball over the goal. Croatia got a great chance after this. In the 15th minute of the match, captain Luka Mordić took a free kick but Carrasco fouled Andrej Karamarić and the referee awarded a penalty. However, with the help of the video assistant referee (VAR), the Croatian player was found offside at the time of the free kick and the penalty was rescinded. Both the teams made several moves before the interval but neither team managed to score.

Read also: FIFA World Cup 2022: Cameroon need a win against Brazil and with a bit of luck

There was a lack of finishing from the players of both the teams. The midfield created chances by making good moves but the strikers of both the teams failed to score. Belgium replaced Mertens with experienced Romelu Lukaku at the start of play after half-time. Just three minutes into the second half, skipper Kevin De Bruyne fired a fiery shot from the left but Josip Juranovic saved the ball in front of goal. In the next minute, Lukaku’s header shot was stopped by goalkeeper Dominik Livkovic. In the 50th minute of the match, Croatia made a move on the counterattack but Mateo Kovacic failed to get the shot inside the goal. Modric got another chance in the 54th minute. He slotted past two defenders but his flamboyant shot was cleared by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, diving down the right. Belgium got a golden chance to score in the 60th minute.

The ball reached Carrasco from midfield but his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. However, the goalkeeper could not take possession of the ball. The ball reached Lukaku who took a sharp shot but the ball hit the right goal post and went out. Even in the last 15 minutes, both the team made many moves but the defense of both the team faced the attacks and did not allow the opposing team to succeed in scoring. Lukaku had another chance to score in the 87th minute but he hit the ball wide.

Belgium fielded Eden Hazard in the 87th minute but he could not create any magic. Lukaku got another golden chance to score in the 90th minute. The goalkeepers were out in front of the goal and Lukaku had to guide the ball straight to him. However, instead of a header, Lukaku blocked the ball with his chest and could not control it, which was taken back by the goalkeeper.

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