Canada 1-2 Morocco: En-Nesyri secures top spot for Atlas Lions
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Jon Fisher
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Youssef En-Nesyri
Youssef En-Nesyri

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 with Nayef Aguerd's own goal — the first of the tournament —nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

Morocco must now wait for Thursday's Group E games to see who they will face in the last 16 at Education City Stadium on Tuesday.

Walid Regragui's side needed just a point to guarantee a place in the knockout stages for only the second time and first since 1986, and they were gifted a dream start after four minutes.

Steven Vitoria’s backpass to Milan Borjan was a little short and the goalkeeper compounded the error with a heavy touch which fell nicely for Ziyech to chip the ball into an empty net from 25 yards.

Canada looked vulnerable every time Morocco came forward and more naïve defending contributed to the second goal midway through the first half.

Achraf Hakimi’s long ball from right-back exposed centre-half Kamal Miller and En-Nesyri ran on to it before firing under Borjan, who again should have done better.

Having posed no attacking threat whatsoever, Canada halved the deficit five minutes before the break. Sam Adekugbe skipped past Hakimi down the left and his low cross was diverted goalwards by the toe of Aguerd with Yassine Bounou unable to keep it out at his near post.

En-Nesyri thought he had restored Morocco’s two-goal advantage before the break, firing home after Canada had partially cleared Ziyech’s inswinging free-kick from the right but his effort was ruled out due to Aguerd blocking Borjan’s view from an offside position.

Perhaps sensing the size of their achievement, Morocco went into their shell as the second half progressed.

Alphonso Davies volleyed wide on the stretch before Canada came within inches of an equaliser after 71 minutes, 39-year-old substitute Atiba Hutchinson heading on to the underside of the bar with Alistair Johnston unable to bundle the rebound over the line.

Morocco held on, though, and a goalless draw in the other pool game between Croatia and Belgium sparked wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle.

What does it mean? More African delight

With Senegal and Morocco through, and Cameroon and Ghana still in with a shot, there could be a healthy African contingent in the knockout phase.

No-one will be taking Regragui's side lightly. Strong in midfield with Sofyan Amrabat a particularly imposing presence, and possessing a sprinkling of quality in attack courtesy of Ziyech and En-Nesyri, they will be tough opponents.

En-Nesyri torments Canada

En-Nesyri became the first Moroccan player to score at two different World Cups after also netting four years ago in Russia.

More importantly, he played a key role in his team claiming a deserved win. He was an irritating presence for a ponderous Canada backline throughout and deserved his goal after 23 minutes. He was unfortunate not to have added a second in first-half stoppage time with his effort chalked off for offside.

Davies typifies courageous Canada

Canada deserve enormous credit for the way they have attacked the challenge of competing with the world’s best. No-one more so than their poster boy Davies, who did his utmost to drive his team forwards.

Key Opta Stats:

Canada have lost all six of their matches at the World Cup – the joint-worst 100 per cent losing record in the competition along with El Salvador.

Ziyech's opener for Morocco after three minutes and 30 seconds was the second-earliest goal for an African nation at the World Cup, after Asamoah Gyan (vs Czech Republic in 2006, 68 seconds).

Canada (who finished bottom) had the joint-most shots of any side in Group F (35) while Morocco (who finished top) had the fewest (24).

Only Mexico (4) have conceded more own goals in World Cup history than Morocco (3). 

Ziyech is just the third Moroccan to both score and assist a goal in the same edition of a World Cup, after Abdeljalil Hadda and Mustapha Hadji in 1998.

What's next?

Morocco go through to face the team that finishes second in Group E in five days' time. As it stands, it could be any one of Spain, Japan, Costa Rica or Germany.

Canada go home without a point but showed enough in the first game against Belgium to suggest their return to the top table of world football after a 36-year absence was no fluke.


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