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Morocco reach round of 16 as Canada World Cup campaign ends

DOHA, Qatar — Morocco booked their spot in the knockout phase of the World Cup thanks to a 2-1 victory over Canada at Al Thumama Stadium on Thursday.

– World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Squads

Hakim Ziyech punished poor Canadian defending to delicately chip home from 35 yards into an unguarded net for their opener, while Youssef En-Nesyri doubled their lead in the 23rd minute with a powerful finish. Canada pulled a goal back just before the break with Nayef Aguerd turning the ball into his own net.

Canada were the better of the two teams in the second half, and came close with Atiba Hutchinson’s header striking the bar and then the line — and they leave this World Cup with zero points but plenty of admirers for their performances and ambition.

For Morocco, this win means they top Group F and equal their best finish at a World Cup, after the 1986 team reached the round of 16 in Mexico.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

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Rapid reaction

1. Morocco’s stars all deliver when it counts

On a night where Morocco were within touching distance of their second foray into the World Cup knockout stages, they needed their big stars to shine. And they did just that. Achraf Hakimi was brilliant while his fellow wing-back Noussair Mazraoui was outstanding on the opposite flank. Then there was the trickery and brilliance of Ziyech, and the barnstorming runs of En-Nesyri.

Hakimi and Mazraoui have to be in with a shout of being the best full-back duo at this World Cup, and though Mazraoui is playing away from his usual right-back spot, he has performed brilliantly on the left. Hakimi’s pass for En-Nesyri’s first-half strike was pitch perfect, while they did a brilliant job of keeping Canada’s attacking threats at bay. While Alphonso Davies was predominantly playing through the middle, Mazrouai and Hakimi did well to shut down the half spaces and ensured any potential danger with the ball at his feet was often nullified before he had a chance to get going.

At the other end of the pitch, Ziyech’s opener was a wonderfully judged piece of skill. The goal was gaping, after Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan found himself with the ball at his feet outside his 18-yard-box and, instead of hoofing it out of the stadium, he planted it straight to Ziyech’s feet. Some 35 yards out, Ziyech nonchalantly chipped it into the empty net. It looked simple, but some players panic in that situation and fluff the chance.

En-Nesyri was unlucky not to have two first-half goals. He took his first brilliantly, as Hakimi’s arching through ball bisected two Canada defenders to allow En-Nesyri to run on to it. His physicality, pace and poise meant he only needed one touch to set himself before rifling the ball past Borjan at the near post. He had the ball in the net again just before half-time, but this was (harshly) ruled out by the referee’s assistant with Aguerd judged to be offside and in the line of sight of Borjan.

2. Atlas Lions should not fear their next opponents

Morocco’s class of 2022 have a chance to be history makers in Qatar. They will likely face Germany or Japan in the round of 16 and, judging by how they dismantled Belgium and the first half of this performance, they are more than capable of reaching the quarterfinals.

There will be aspects they need to improve. They were too passive in the third quarter of the match and allowed Canada far too much possession. Communication also let them down for Canada’s first-half goal, with Aguerd’s attempt to block a cross ending up in his own net.

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Then there was their extremely lucky escape in the second half, as Atiba Hutchinson’s header struck the crossbar, bounced down, hit the line and then somehow the rebound was headed over the top of the goal. If they are to surpass their previous best finish at a World Cup of a round-of-16 exit, then they have to cancel out those errors and lapses of concentration.

So to create history and reach the last eight, they must combine the intensity, focus and set-piece prowess of the Belgium win with the transitional excellence we saw against Canada for that second goal, as they turned a fairly ordinary passage of play into a goal-scoring chance thanks to Hakimi’s wondrous pass.

And then there’s the added fear factor of their wonderful fans. You cannot underestimate the noise they generate in the stadium — they had Al Thumama rocking from the outset and, as glorious as that must be to have that cacophonous roar behind you, it must be very intimidating for the opposition.

3. Canada will have mixed emotions as campaign ends

Canada had six goals for this World Cup, according to their manager John Herdman. They wanted to grab Canada men’s first goal in a World Cup, he wanted them to show up “fearless” and to “entertain,” he said the day prior to this match against Morocco. He also wanted the team over the course of their matches to “keep a clean sheet,” “get a result” and “get a win,” So it only seems fair to judge them by their own criteria. They’ve scored two goals, so job done there. They’ve been fearless — just look at how they played Belgium, and tried to attack Croatia. And they’ve certainly entertained — Alphonso Davies’ goal against Croatia was a wonderful move. But they fell short of the other three.

Heading into this final group-stage match, they already knew they were out. But this match still had huge importance attached to it — especially with their next World Cup match being as joint-hosts in 2026. They badly wanted that win to break the men’s team’s losing streak at a World Cup — having lost all three of their group matches in 1986, and were zero from two from into this match. We’ve seen them play courageously and they were lucky not to take a point, at least, off Belgium. They failed to live up to Herdman’s brash assertion they were going to “‘F’ Croatia”, as they fell 4-1 to the 2018 finalists, distinctly second best. But perhaps this was going to be the match where they created their own slice of Canadian history.

But it was not to be. It was not for want of trying, but they put themselves on the back foot with that calamitous Ziyech goal and from then on they were chasing shadows. They had more possession in the second half and how they’ll lament their luck as Hutchinson’s header somehow stayed the wrong side of the line. Had the ball bounced differently, and there been a bit more conviction, Canada could have got that elusive “result” they were after.

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Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)

Canada: Milan Borjan 5, Alistair Johnston 6, Kamal Miller 6, Steven Vitoria 6, Sam Adekugbe 6, Mark-Anthony Kaye 6, Jonathan Osorio 5, Alphonso Davies 7, Cyle Larin 5, Tajon Buchanan 6, Junior Hoilett 7.

Subs: Jonathan David 6, Atiba Hutchinson 7, Ismael Kone 6, Richie Laryea 6, David Wotherspoon 6.

Morocco: Yassine Bounou 6, Achraf Hakimi 8, Nayef Aguerd 6, Romain Saiss 6, Noussair Mazraoui 7, Sofyan Amrabat 7, Azzedine Ounahi 6, Abdelhamid Sabiri 6, Hakim Ziyech 7, Sofiane Boufal 7, Youssef En-Nesyri 7.

Subs: Zakaria Aboukhlal 5, Selim Amallah 6, Yahya Jabrane, Abderrazak Hamdallah 5, Jawad El Yamiq 6.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Achraf Hakimi

The Paris Saint-Germain full-back was absolutely outstanding for Morocco. He was an attacking threat and, when his team struggled to get out of their own half, Hakimi’s defensive work was superb in keeping Canada at bay.

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WORST: Milan Borjan

It’s harsh, as apart from that error, he had a solid game and even put in a decent cross when joining the attack in second-half stoppage time, but for his role in the first goal with his poor clearance it has to be the goalkeeper.

Highlights and notable moments

Ziyech’s long-range opener with Borjan stranded was the worst possible start for Canada.

En-Nesyri then gave Morocco what proved to be the winning goal with his blistering pace and sharp finish.

Canada came this close to claiming their first-ever point at a men’s World Cup finals.

After the match: What the players and managers said

Postmatch quotes will appear here…

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

Hakim Ziyech opened the scoring with his 19th international goal for Morocco, and his first at a World Cup finals. It was the ninth scored from outside the box in Qatar so far, while there were 22 scored across the whole group stage at Russia 2018.

Morocco’s Nayef Aguerd scored the first own goal at the 2022 World Cup. By comparison, there were 12 in Russia four years ago, with none of those coming in the group stage.

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Youssef En-Nesyri’s two career World Cup goals tie three other players for the most in Morocco’s history, though En-Nesyri is the first Moroccan player to score at two different World Cups.

Morocco join Ghana (2006, 2010), Senegal (2002, 2022) and Nigeria (1994, 1998, 2014) as the only African teams to reach the World Cup knockout phase more than once.

Morocco’s haul of seven points in the group stage is the most ever for an African side at a World Cup. The previous record by a CAF side had been six.

Morocco and Senegal’s advancement marks the second time that two African nations have reached the World Cup knockout phase in a single tournament, after Algeria and Nigeria advanced in 2014. Cameroon and Ghana could also still qualify for the round of 16.

Canada’s record of six defeats from six matches as World Cup finals ties them with El Salvador for the worst record in tournament history. A third CONCACAF nation, Honduras, has played nine World Cup finals matches without winning, although they have drawn three of their matches.

Up next

Canada: Herdman’s team are not scheduled to play next until almost four months from now, when they play their final two fixtures in Group C of the CONCACAF Nations League. They travel to Curacao for their match on March 25 before hosting Honduras three days later.

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Morocco: The Atlas Lions will face the runners-up in Group E — which comprises Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and Germany — at Education City Stadium on Tuesday at 6 p.m. local time/10 a.m. ET.

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