Belgium 0 Morocco 2
Lacklustre Belgium deservedly beaten by Morocco
Kevin De Bruyne is fluent in four languages but he did not need any of them to express his anger during this stodgy, unimaginative and alarmingly flimsy performance by Belgium. The Manchester City midfielder spoke with his body instead of his words, constantly throwing his arms around in frustration and flapping his hands in unconcealed annoyance.
De Bruyne is an elite reader of the game and, as ever, he seemed to know what was coming long before anyone else. Belgium were sloppy and slow, as they were against Canada in their opening match, and on this occasion they were emphatically punished for it by a Morocco side of zeal, courage and skill.
All across this ageing Belgium team there were frowning faces and drooping shoulders, and their misery was in keeping with the general lack of optimism within the squad. The downbeat predictions have been strange to hear, given the quality at Roberto Martínez’s disposal, but at Al Thumama Stadium it quickly became clear why Belgium’s players feel they have, in De Bruyne’s words, “no chance” of winning the World Cup.
Even the giant Thibaut Courtois, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, was stumbling around his six-yard box like a lost boy in a sandstorm. He was rescued by the video assistant referee for his first error, but there was to be no saviour for him after the break, when Abdelhamid Sabiri’s free-kick slipped beneath his body.
If one moment could summarise the gap between the two teams – Morocco inventive and aggressive, Belgium drab and fragile – it was the piece of skill produced by Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time. The Chelsea winger’s stepover sent Timothy Castagne in the rough direction of Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent cross allowed Zakaria Aboukhlal to double Morocco’s lead.
“There is so much going through my mind right now,” said Jan Vertonghen, the Belgium defender. “Things I should not say.”
Ziyech later described the game-plan as “waiting for Belgium’s mistakes”, but do not be fooled by his assessment: Morocco were far more than canny opportunists. Buoyed by their relentless fans, they played a front-foot game when they could and defended with resilience when it was needed. In Ziyech and Sofyan Amrabat, they had the game’s outstanding players.
Ziyech’s performance should serve as a reminder to Chelsea of the quality he possesses. “He is incredible,” said Walid Regragui, the Morocco coach. “A lot of people talk about him as a difficult guy to manage but what I see is that, when you give him love, he will die for you.”
For Belgium, the passage of time has gradually removed the shine from their golden generation. The players accept this to be true, with Eden Hazard admitting that Belgium had their best chance of glory four years ago, and their decline could be seen by anyone who watched this match. Of their starting eleven here, seven are in their thirties.
As if to underline the point, Martínez said he felt he had to remove Hazard after an hour, in order to manage the forward’s fitness. The Hazard of years past could be let loose on opponents. The Hazard of 2022 needs careful handling.
Hazard and De Bruyne, especially, are visibly lacking the spark we have grown used to seeing. De Bruyne was miserable throughout, while Hazard never built any momentum in the game.
Asked why the best De Bruyne is yet to emerge at this tournament, Martínez said: “We have not been the best Belgium yet. On the ball we have not been ourselves, and it is not just Kevin. We have to find that freedom and expression. On the ball, I don’t see the enjoyment. We need to work, to be ourselves.”
The fortunate opening-game win over Canada means that Belgium are still in control of their own destiny. They will need to improve drastically when they face Croatia in the final group game, though, and it would be no surprise if Romelu Lukaku returns to the side following his injury issues.
All across this World Cup there are great players in the final days of their careers. For Belgium, it feels like the sun is now setting on an entire team. Too many of the players appear to be past their prime.
They could yet grow into this tournament, of course. They have the quality and experience required to do so. But do they have the enthusiasm? This was an unhappy team playing unhappy football. Until the mood changes, the performances will surely stay the same.
Belgium (3-4-3): Courtois 4; Alderweireld 5, Vertonghen 5, Castagne 4; Meunier 6 (Lukaku 81), Onana 6 (Tielemans 60), Witsel 5, T Hazard 5 (Trossard 74); De Bruyne 5, Batshuayi 5 (De Ketelaere 75), E Hazard 6 (Mertens 61).
Morocco (4-3-3): El Kajoui 7; Hakimi 7 (Attiat-Allah 68), Aguerd 7, Saiss 7, Mazraoui 6; Ounahi 6 (El Yamiq 78), Amrabat 8, Amallah 7 (Sabiri 68); Ziyech 8, En-Nesyri 6 (Hamdallah 73), Boufal 7 (Aboukhlal 73).
Referee: Cesar Ramos (Mexico).
Morocco stun Belgium: As it happened
The winning goal
You cannot say this defeat wasn't coming for Belgium
This stat (vis Opta Joe) is as revealing as it is alarming...
Belgium have lost seven of their past 19 matches in all competitions (W9 D3), as many defeats as they’d suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57 D10).
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez speaks...
On emotions after the defeat...
"It's a difficult result because the first goal affected the outcome a lot. It's a dead ball situation, we couldn't get our game going and it's a game that we need to understand"
On the need for his side to not fight...
"We need to be together and react in the next game. That's what happens in the World Cup."
On who was at fault for the first goal...
"The way we defended the goal is the way we have been defending free-kicks for six years, that's not the issue. It's a good ball in, it's nothing to do with the set up."
On how the first goal changed the game...
"I think we had good moments but we couldn't get clear cut chances, we only had a couple of half opportunities and if you allow that goal to be conceded then it changes the game radically. At the moment we conceded the goal we lost our composure too much and we couldn't get ourselves back in the final third with more thought."
On the need to bounce back...
"We need to make sure that we get stronger together and we'll get ready for the third game."
Which Moroccan shone brightest for you?
Rate the players here.
Belgium's problems were clear for all to see
Now Darren Huckerby weighs in...
Yes, Darren Huckerby...
Let the party begin
It's just their third win at the World Cup and the Moroccan fans are still going wild in the stadium and, I imagine, back home.
On the BBC coverage
Pablo Zabaleta is ripping Belgium to shreds.
The former Man City man says they had "no fight and no passion."
Morocco were magnificent
They made life so tough for the Belgians, who, for all their creative players, were unable to fashion any clearcut chances.
KDB and Co were listless, pedestrian and predictable.
A triptych of Aboukhlal's winner
FULL-TIME: Belgium 0-2 Morocco
It's all over and no more than Morocco deserve - it's only their third ever World Cup win and it's come against the second best team in the world (according to the rankings).
GOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!!!! Belgium 0-2 Morocco
Aboukhlal wins it for Morocco!
It's all over for Belgium - a long punt upfield isn't dealt with by the Belgians, Aboukhal combines with Ziyech, whose low cross from the right is thumped into the roof of the net by the Toulouse player.
92 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Just when Belgium need a bit of composure and class Alderweireld hooooofs the ball long and off...
90 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Belgium are hitting crosses into the box but it's backs-to-the-wall stuff from Morocco who are putting their bodies on the line and defending brilliantly.
There will be five minutes added time.
And what a time for Morocco to have their first corner of the match as they march up the pitch on the counter and force Courtois into a good save.
88 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
If Morocco can find the right pass then Belgium are there to be picked off.
Here's a stat Belgium have only failed to score once since the last World Cup...they have just over five or so minutes to get one here.
85 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Five of the 90 to go - and Morocco are looking the more likely to score.
Belgium just cannot fashion a clearcut chance. Mertens makes a nice run in the box but the north African's defend well.
History maker (sort of...)
82 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Apparently Romelu Lukaku is about to come on - he's not totally fit but desperate times and all that.
Indeed, the Inter Milan man is on for Meunier. He has already made his presence felt winning a corner.
From the set piece a Vertonghen goes just wide.
78 mins: Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Belgium have been pedestrian and predictable so far - they have the players to get the equaliser but going on what's gone before today I cannot see it happening...
GOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLL!!! Belgium 0-1 Morocco
Sabiri direct from a freekick has broken the deadlock!
This one stands - it come in from the left and Courtois, for the second time this match, is beaten at his near post.
Before I forget...
Here are those 'flaming' Belgium socks - approve or not?
68 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
The game is opening up and I wouldn't be surprised if a winner does come before the final whistle.
Famous last words...
Boufal going close
65 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Collector's item: KDB has the ball and takes the wrong option, cutting inside rather than passing out wide, and then loses the ball.
Belgium then win it back and Mertens shoots from just outside the box and it's well saved.
62 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
KDB and Batshuayi combine partly well, partly fortuitously as they look to play in Hazard T on the left BUT assistant ref's flag is up. That looked promising.
59 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
The Moroccans are now happy to sit deep and let Belgium pass in front of them - it's when they do that that KDB and Co look like lacking that cutting edge.
Double change for Martinez's men. Onana and Eden Hazard are off for Tielemans and Mertens. Onana off for Tielemans is a good change - the Belgians will need that extra bit of creativity.
56 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Boufal and Ziyech are doing well, the former drops a shoulder, leaving Meunier for dead, before cutting inside ontohis right boot and curling a shot that goes just wide.
This is a much better match now.
55 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Belgium are moving the ball better, and quicker now. When they slow it down they become easy to play against. Martinez will be calling for more of the same in a bid to stretch the Moroccans.
51 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
The game is opening up now - Morocco becoming more confident they can get a goal is leaving more spaces for the Belgians to exploit.
50 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
It's been a lively start to the half. No sooner had Morocco tested Courtois than Belgium quickly move the ball up the other end with Hazard firing in a fine shot from the right that is saved well.
From the resulting corner Onana heads over.
48 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Everything good about Morocco has come courtesy of Ziyech and the Chelsea man cuts inside and fires from jsut outside the box. It's straight at Courtois, however.
Sam Dean with more of what happened with Bono (the Morocco keeper, not U2 frontman)
Strange scenes at the start of this game, by the way. Morocco goalkeeper Bono was due to start the match, and even sang the national anthem on the pitch with the rest of the first team. But then he was subbed out before the team picture was taken, with Munir El Kajoui coming in instead. Some of the pictures of the anthem show Bono bent double and holding his head. There is some suggestion here that he had issues with his vision. Bizarre.
45 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
They're back under way in Qatar. Belgium need to up the tempo if they are to (i) win this game and (ii) look anything remotely like possible World Cup winners.
No Bono in goal for Morocco
So this is why Bono is no longer in goal for Morocco. During the national anthem he had an issue with his eyes and Munir Mohamedi was sent on to replace him.
From Sam Dean at the Al Thumama Stadium
We needed that drama at the end of the first half, as this has not been a thriller. Morocco aren't happy with the offside but I'm not sure their complaints are legitimate. Meanwhile, what is going on with Belgium? They have been poor, again. De Bruyne and Hazard are struggling to get into the game.
Who do you think played well during that half?
Let us know here...
Half-time: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
That was a slightly controversial (trying to hype up what was otherwise a dullish first 45 minutes) end to the half.
Belgium have had most of the ball but aren't quick enough with it and struggled to create anything as a result. Morocco are working hard and it's a stalemate...
46 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Yes they can make that free-kick count!
Ziyech scores direct!
Or does he?!?! VAR are checking - it looks as though Saiss might be in an offside position...
Indeed, it is ruled out...still 0-0.
45 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Morocco earn a free-kick just outside the area after Ziyech turns Castagne this way and that. The left-back tackles the Chelsea winger well BUT Ramos the ref doesn't see it that way and gives a free-kick.
Can they make this set piece count?
41 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Belgium haven't really created a chance since that early Batshuayi shot. They have got to pass it around quickly, at the moment it seems as though they're passing for passing sake. KDB turns and has a go at Onana, the Man City playmkaer is looking a tad frustrated at the moment.
38 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Another Belgium set piece - this one a free-kick just outside the box on the left.
KDB aims for the far corner - quite deliberately - and it just goes over.
35 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Belgium have their sixth corner of the match but cannot make this one count either as a big hand from Bono clears the ball.
They're being too slow at the moment - it's too easy to defend against.
32 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
As soon as Hazard E gets on the ball Belgium look a different prospect. He's able to work the ball right but the cross is too close to the keeper much to Hazard T's annoyance - he was in a better position on the edge of the box.
29 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Belgium were on top the first 15-20 minutes but you cannot say that now. You get the sense Morocco are getting more and more confidence and getting higher up the pitch.
Eden Hazard and KDB need to get in the game a bit more at the moment.
26 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Good chance for Morocco - the ball comes into the box from the left, Hakimi heads it back and Amallah volleys first time. Alas it's high, wide and not so handsome.
The Belgians then give away a free-kick inside their half, but the north Africans hit it long. Belgium have gone a bit quiet these past 10 minutes, KDB hasn't been on the ball much.
It's been a good start by De Bruyne
He's already looked more lively and influential than during the 1-0 win over Canada.
22 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Courtois is the coolest player on the pitch as he successfully attempts a Cruyff turn with En-Nesyri charging down on the goalkeeper, before booting the ball clear.
20 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Better from Morroco - for the first time this match they get their foot on the ball and get into the Belgium half. It comes to Ziyech on the right who cuts in and hits a left-foot shot from distance that doesn't trouble Courtois.
18 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
It's still all Belgium - they're dominated possession and territory and there's a lot of pressure on the Moroccans. As I type Meunier has a low shot from outside the area but it's straight at Bono.
How would you rate De Bruyne's start?
Rate him and all the other players on display here.
15 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Another Belgium free-kick, this one from the left, KDB leaves it for Hazard T who hits it low to the edge of the area to his brother who lays it off for KDB. The Man City man hits it first time and it's well blocked.
That was a well-worked free-kick and Belgium will be happy with how this game has started.
12 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Another corner for Belgium. Hazard T takes it, it's cleared well before the ball ends up at the feet of Hazard E, but the former Chelsea man is double-teamed by Amrabat and Hakimi.
It's all Belgium at the moment, they passing the ball well and being patient, waiting for their chance which, for now, isn't forthcoming.
Morocco haven't been out of their own half for a while.
10 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Kevin de Bruyne does well on the right and forces the foul in the final third on the right.
The resulting free-kick is floated in well but well cleared by Morocco.
Here's that early Batshuayi chance
8 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
The game has settled from it's initial slight frenzy. Belgium are playing keep ball and doing it quite well - Morocco are happy to sit deep and gift them possession.
5 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
First chance of the game goes Belgium's way - a lovely run by Batshuayi is picked out by Hazard T and the striker's shot is well saved.
From the resulting corner Morocco head clear for another corner. This one they clear the other way and the danger, for not at least, is gone for the north Africans.
4 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
Early doors but already it's clear that the Moroccans are looking to the right-hand side of Ziyech and Hakimi.
One other early observation is that the Belgium socks are hideous - will try find a pic...
2 mins: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
This is Belgium's 50th match at the World Cup can they do something special to mark the half-ton?
Good run from Ziyech on the right ends with an overhit low cross. You can hear the Moroccans over the TV - sounds more like Rabat than downtown Doha.
1 min: Belgium 0-0 Morocco
They're under way at the Al Thumama Stadium, the very least Belgium will want is a much-improved performance after the 1-0 win over Canada.
The teams are out on the pitch and it's national anthem time
Huge noise from the sizable Moroccan contingent.
From Sam Dean at Al Thumama Stadium
Optimism is hard to find within the Belgium camp. Kevin De Bruyne has described the team as “too old” to win this World Cup, while Eden Hazard reckons their best chance was four years ago. Their stodgy victory over Canada, in the opening game, did little to suggest these two stars were wrong in their assessments.
And yet. Look at the team. This is still Belgium, and they still have one of the most impressive squads in Qatar. Thibaut Courtois is probably the best goalkeeper in the world. Kevin De Bruyne is probably the best midfielder in the world. And does it really matter that they are a bit old? This is not a 38-game campaign, after all.
We will have a much better idea of Belgium's standing after this meeting with Morocco, who are a much better team than you might think. An exciting match awaits (hopefully).
Eden Hazard has been fat-shamed
The former Chelsea winger starts today and may well perhaps want to put in a good performance following yesterday's press conference.
An Egyptian reporter accused Hazard of having put on weight, something the 31-year-old didn't appreciate, saying: "I can’t say more about that than that it’s not true. My weight is stable and I work hard."
Who are you backing in this one?
All to play for in Group F
Thanks to Tom Ward for holding fort while I dashed to get a bite to eat after Costa Rica's mini-shock win over Japan.
So Belgium can secure qualification for the second round with a win over the north Africans this afternoon. Neither Croatia or Morocco can progress or be eliminated today, but a Croatia win over Canada in the 4 o'clock kick-off would put them in a good position to make the round of 16.
Here come the fans
All smiles outside the Al Thumana Stadium.
Big call up
Youri Tielemans is on the bench for this one with Martinez instead turning to 21-year-old Amadou Onana.
Yesterday, Roberto Martinez gave an update about Belgium's absent striker, Romelu Lukaku
"Medically, Romelu was only available for the third game, but he's ahead of where he should be and the signs are very good."
"I don't expect him to be involved on Sunday unless something very good happens today [Saturday]."
The Morocco XI
Bounou, Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui, Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah, Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal
The Belgium XI
Courtois, Meunier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Castagne, Onana, Witsel, Thorgan Hazard, De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Batshuayi
Welcome to the Al Thumama Stadium as Belgium and Morocco meet in a crucial Group F clash.
Belgium escaped with a 1-0 win against Canada earlier this week in a match where many felt they were lucky.
The Canadians dominated proceedings for much of the contest, with their inability to find the back of the net eventually denying them the chance of an upset.
Belgium must now re-group and get their start firing against a Morocco side who remain focused on qualification after an opening-match draw against Croatia.
Eden Hazard, the Belgium captain, said: “I think we had a better chance to win four years ago. The team was better four years ago but still we have a good chance to win games.
“We are a complete team, we have the best goalkeeper in the world, one of the best midfielders in the world and striker. We have to enjoy moments, we have to play our game, try on the pitch and we’ll see what happens.”
Morocco were defensively rigid against Croatia and will prove a tough nut for the Belgians to crack with Romelu Lukaku still absent through injury.
Hazard though is confident his squad has enough quality to break them down.
He added: “I think the first match was difficult to manage, we had the same experience four years ago.
“Our first game against Panama wasn’t great, we managed to score and things went better. It’s always difficult playing your first match, there’s stress, you don’t want to lose the ball. So you try to hide and not lose the ball.
“But I’m not worried. I know we have great players who can cause problems for the opponent. We went to get the ball to Kevin, to Youri (Tielemans), they’re our danger players. I’m pretty confident actually.”
Join us from 12 for full team news.