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Morocco stun Belgium, Japan hopes dented

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Another upset at the World Cup with Morocco beating Belgium, while Costa Rica turned their form around with a surprise win over Japan.

Morocco players celebrate after Morocco's win over Belgium at the Qatar 2022 World Cup

Morocco players celebrate after Morocco’s win over Belgium at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Photo: AFP

Substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal earned Morocco their first World Cup victory in 24 years as they upset a hugely disappointing Belgium side 2-0 in Group F.

The Morocco fans gave the match a vintage World Cup feel in a boiling atmosphere at the Al Thumama Stadium and Sabiri curled a wide free kick past Thibaut Courtois before Aboukhlal netted in stoppage 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.

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.

The Red Devils’ poor display even forced coach Roberto 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 today.

Meanwhile Costa Rica put a huge dent in Japan’s hopes of reaching the last 16 when they rebounded from their 7-0 hammering by Spain to claim a surprise 1-0 victory in Group E.

The door was ajar for Japan to seal their place in the knockout round after their historic opening win over Germany on the same day as Costa Rica’s collapse.

But Keysher Fuller’s curling 81st-minute effort, Costa Rica’s first shot on target in the tournament, rocked Japan and put their hopes of progression in peril.

When Fuller’s left-footer crept into the top of the net despite Japan keeper Shuichi Gonda’s doomed attempt to keep it out, Costa Rica’s players and fans erupted in delirium.

There may also have been cheers of relief in the Germany camp because a Japan win would have put them under intense pressure to beat Spain in Sunday’s later game.

Japan oddly made five changes to their starting line-up and despite beefing up their attack with substitutions in the second half they were punished for a meek approach against shell-shocked opponents.

They remain second in the group on three points but with their last game being against Spain the odds on them reaching the knockout stage for a fourth time have lengthened considerably.

Costa Rica, written off as whipping boys before kickoff, snapped a seven-match winless run at the World Cup to move to three points and now have a possible route to the last 16.

-Reuters

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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