Morocco battled their way to a hard-fought win over Canada that secured top spot in World Cup Group F.
Morocco became the first African team to top a World Cup group for 24 years after beating Canada 2-1 on Thursday.
First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough as Nayef Aguerdo’s own goal – his first of the tournament – was little more than a consolation for the Canadian side, who return home without a point.
Morocco now have to wait for Thursday’s Group E matches to see who they will face in the round of 16 on Tuesday at the Education City Stadium.
Walid Regragui’s side needed just a point to guarantee progress to the knockout stages for only the second time and the first time since 1986, and after four minutes they got off to a dream start.
Steven Vitoria’s back pass to Milan Borjan was a little short and the keeper compounded the mistake with a heavy touch that fell nicely for Ziyech to head the ball into an empty net from 25 yards.
Canada looked vulnerable every time Morocco came forward and more naive defending contributed to the second goal midway through the first half.
Achraf Hakimi’s long ball from the right-back was uncovered at centre-half by Kamal Miller and En-Nesyri ran onto it before firing under Borjan, who again should have done better.
With Canada posing no attacking threat, they halved the deficit five minutes before the break. Sam Adekugbe outjumped Hakimi on the left and his low cross was deflected on goal by Aguerdo, Yassine Bounou unable to keep it at his post.
En-Nesyri thought he had restored Morocco’s two-goal advantage before the break when he fired home after Canada partially cleared Ziyech’s free-kick from the right, but his effort was ruled out as Aguerd blocked Borjan’s view from an offside position.
Perhaps sensing the magnitude of their success, Morocco went into their shell during the second half.
Alphonso Davies volleyed home in the 71st minute before Canada came within inches of equalizing after 71 minutes, 39-year-old substitute Atiba Hutchinson headed under the crossbar with Alistair Johnston unable to clear the line.
But Morocco held on and a goalless draw in the second pool match between Croatia and Belgium sparked wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle.
Canada vs Morocco player ratings
1. Canada (3-4-2-1)
GK: Milan Borjan – 2/10 – Made a terrible error for Morocco’s first and was beaten at his near post for the second.
CB: Alistair Johnston – 6/10 – Not to blame for either goal and put in a solid shift both offensively and defensively.
CB: Steven Vitoria – 3/10 – Sold Borjan a little short on the first goal and was exposed for the second.
CB: Kamal Miller – 5/10 – Didn’t cover himself in glory on Morocco’s second goal but recovered well to enjoy a solid second half.
RWB: Tajon Buchanan – 5/10 – Missed a good chance at the far post in the 15th minute. Failed to really test Morocco after that.
CM: Mark-Anthony Kaye – 4/10 – Looked a little lost in the midfield, coming second-best to a number of loose balls.
CM: Jonathan Osorio – 4/10 – Like Kaye, Osorio looked a couple of seconds behind play. Not his day.
LWB: Sam Adekugbe – 7/10 – Forced Canada’s goal with a driving run and dangerous cross. Always tried to provide an outlet.
RF: Junior Hoilett – 8/10 – Canada’s best player by quite a distance. Always tried to take the game to Morocco and used his experience to win key fouls.
ST: Cyle Larin – 5/10 – One threatening cross aside, Larin was a bystander. Completed just five passes all game.
LF: Alphonso Davies – 6/10 – Wasn’t short of ideas or confidence, but just tried to do too much on his own. Needed more frequent and better service from his teammates.
SUB: Atiba Hutchinson (60′, for Kaye) – 8/10 – Added composure to the Canadian midfield and came so close to scoring on his final appearance for Canada. What a fairytale moment that would have been.
SUB: Jonathan David (60′, for Larin) – 5/10 – Didn’t find his rhythm.
SUB: Ismael Kone (60′, for Adekugbe) – 8/10 – Looked way ahead of his 20 years of age. Composed, quick, and progressive with the ball.
SUB: Richie Laryea (65′, for Osorio) – 6/10 – Was aggressive but, ultimately, didn’t change the game.
SUB: David Wotherspoon (76′, for Hoilett) – N/A – Never got going.
2. Morocco (4-3-3)
RB: Achraf Hakimi – 8/10 – Provided a wonderful long-range pass behind the Canadian defence for En-Nesyri’s goal and was a constant threat going forward.
CB: Nayef Aguerd – 6/10 – Very unlucky to have scored an own goal but did fine otherwise.
CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Provided composure to the Moroccan backline, with and without the ball.
LB: Noussair Mazraoui – 6/10 – Never really got into the game with most of Morocco’s play going down the right. Did fine defensively.
CM: Abdelhamid Sabiri – 6/10 – Tidy enough for 65 minutes.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 8/10 – Continues to impress at this tournament with his metronomic passing and relentless defensive work.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 7/10 – Kept the ball moving with some quick passing and driving runs.
RW: Hakim Ziyech – 8/10 – Took full advantage of Borjan’s error to open the scoring and always looked on the edge of doing something spectacular.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – 9/10 – Scored one goal and had another cruelly disallowed for offside. Used his pace and strength to good effect against a struggling Canadian defence.
LW: Sofiane Boufal – 8/10 – Quick and creative. Kept the Canadians walking a tightrope by drawing fouls in dangerous areas.
SUB: Zakaria Aboukhlal (65′, for Boufal) – 3/10 – Barely touched the ball.
SUB: Selim Amallah (65′, for Sabiri) – 6/10 – Hardly got on the ball but helped keep Canada at bay.
SUB: Abderrazak Hamdallah (76′, for Ziyech) – 5/10 – Struggled to hold the ball up.
SUB: Jawad El Yamiq (77′, for Ounahi) – 5/10 – Didn’t really change the game.
SUB: Yahya Jabrane (85′, for Hakimi) – N/A – Not enough time to get going.