Morocco vs Belgium: Major World Cup upsets as Atlas Lions shock the Red Devils and Costa Rica beat Japan



CNN

It was a day of major setbacks at the World Cup as Belgium and Japan both succumbed to shock defeats to Morocco and Costa Rica respectively.

Morocco won its first World Cup match since 1998 – and its third ever – and pulled off a sensational 2-0 heavyweight victory over Belgium to ensure they can still qualify for the knockout stages for the second time in their history.

The Atlas Lions were fueled by vociferous support in the stadium as they overcame a disallowed goal just before half-time to score two glorious goals in the second half.

First, Abdelhamid Sabiri curled in a perfectly weighted free-kick from the left wing, defrauding Thibaut Courtois, before Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed his side’s famous victory.

After a disappointing performance in the opening 1-0 win against Canada, Belgium started more fluidly, but still looked a shadow of its usual self as Morocco looked to build on its own solid start to the World Cup after a scoreless draw with Croatia .

And it looked like Morocco had found the early breakthrough on the stroke of half-time, when a Hakim Ziyech free kick blasted past Courtois, but was later ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for offside.

The two sides went 0-0 through the tunnel level, but this could not suppress the support of the thousands of Moroccan fans, whose chants echoed throughout the stadium throughout the game.

Midway through the second half, the celebrations erupted as Sabiri’s free-kick found the back of the net, putting Morocco within reach of victory.

Belgium offered little response and Ziyech worked his way through the Belgian defense in stoppage time, passed the ball back into the penalty area where Aboukhlal tapped it into the back of the net.

When the final whistle blew a few minutes later, several Moroccan players fell to their knees – some bowed their heads in prayer, some simply collapsed from exhaustion – before hugging in celebration.

Morocco now leads Group F with four points after beating the world number 2.

Earlier in the day, Costa Rica shocked Japan with a 1-0 win, courtesy of a Keysher Fuller goal in the 81st minute, as they kept their World Cup qualification hopes alive with a vital three points to level the game. to catch up with Spain and Japan in Group E.

Japan, fresh off a surprise victory over Germany that gave them a real chance to progress to the knockout stages, was unable to gain a foothold in this match despite Costa Rica still licking its wounds after a cathartic 7-0 defeat against Spain.

Costa Rica recovered from a 7-0 defeat to Spain in the opening game.

It was a restrained, disappointing first 45 minutes marked by sloppy passes from both sides as neither could muster a single shot on target.

Immediately after the break, however, the pace immediately picked up with the introduction of two new faces for Japan: Takuma Asano and Hiroki Ito.

Hidemasa Morita made his way into the penalty area and scored a shot on target which was knocked away by Keylor Navas.

Japan kept pressing but was unable to capitalize and the game soon fell back into the lukewarm rhythm of the first half.

Then, contrary to convention, Costa Rica took advantage of an error at the edge of the box and Fuller fired the ball into the top corner of the net, past Shuichi Gonda’s outstretched hand, for his side’s first shot on goal and the first goal of the tournament.

Costa Rica's victory kept them in the hunt for the knockout stage.

It silenced the Samurai Blue fans for the first time, whose torrent of vocals and drums had rippled through the stadium for most of the game, and bolstered Costa Rican support as their own chants of “Oe Oe Ticos!” got louder.

With just nine minutes of regular time remaining, Japan saw its hopes of a spot in the knockout phase slip away, and a chance late as the ball bounced around the penalty area was mobilized by Navas as Costa Rica held on for victory .

With Spain and Germany playing later on Sunday, the fate of both teams will be decided in the final round.

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