There seems to be something about countries nicknamed “Lions” at the World Cup. The Teranga Lions were the first African country to claim a ticket to the second round, and now they have been joined by the Atlas Lions of Morocco.
Qatar 2022: Morocco make history as Ziyech capitalizes on gift to secure round of 16 berth
At a World Cup where African teams were widely expected to do poorly, Morocco become the second African country to reach the second round.
To add to that, the Three Lions of England also finished top of their group, and it is left to see if the Indomitable Lions can do the unthinkable in their final group game to complete the set.
Formations and tactics
Morocco started with a familiar 4-3-3 and only one change from their shock win over Belgium as Yassine Bounou recovered from injury to reclaim his number spot from deputy Monir El Kajoui.
Knowing that they had only pride to play for, Canada opted to tinker a bit, switching to a back four for the first time at the World Cup, with Jonathan David dropping to the bench.
Morocco hit the ground running and with only four minutes on the clock, took the lead after a horrendous mistake by Canada’s goalkeeper Milos Borjan left Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech with the easiest goal from 30 years he will ever score.
Morocco continued to apply pressure from counter attacks and were ahead by two after the half hour mark when Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri scored at his second consecutive World Cup with a cool finish.
Canada pulled one back before the end of the half, but even in that had to come with the help of Morocco as Nayef Aguerd scored the first own goal of the 2022 World Cup to make it 2-1.
The second half was mainly academic as both teams seemed intent on seeing the game out with the same scores at full time as half time.
Morocco especially seemed content and focused on making sure that Canada did not dent their hopes for the second round in any way.
Both teams combined for a total of zero shots on target in the second half, and Morocco did not even get a shot on goal in the second 45 minutes at all.
Unsightly though it was, Morocco’s decision to sit back and soak up all the pressure eventually worked, earning them al three points and a place in the second round at the expense of Belgium.
What next for Morocco and Canada?
Morocco had previously only won two matches in their history before 2022, but their two wins in a group where they were expected to struggle saw them become the first African team to top a World Cup group since Nigeria in 1998.
They will now go on to the round of 16 where they face another powerhouse in Spain, and these fearless Lions have shown that with the right quality at the right time, anything is possible for them.
Canada return home with no points, but a lot of pointers for a young squad expected to peak when Canada host the World Cup in 2026.