Morocco pull off another WCup upset; Costa Rica keep World Cup hopes alive

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Croatia crush Canada hopes of advancing

Belgium’s Thorgan Hazard (left), and Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat challenge for the ball during the World Cup Group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar. (AP)

DOHA, Qatar, Nov 27, (AP): Morocco pulled off yet another World Cup shock, and it was Belgium’s aging “Golden Generation” that took the hit this time. The 2-0 upset left Kevin de Bruyne and the 2018 semifinalists in peril of a group-stage exit at what is likely the final World Cup for numerous players on a team that haven’t been able to win a major title.

Morocco substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri gave his team the lead by whipping in a free kick from a tight angle on the left in the 73rd minute that got under the body of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – for many, the best in the world at his position. Zakaria Aboukhlal then guided a shot into the roof of the net off a pass from Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time as Courtois was beaten again. Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, had won their last seven group games at the World Cup before the upset. It was Morocco’s first win at a World Cup since 1998 and only their third ever. Belgium would have become the second team after defending champions France to qualify for the knockout stage if they had beaten the Moroccans but now will play 2018 finalists Croatia in what will be a crucial final group game.

Morocco, which thrived off the deafening support provided by its fans at Al Thumama Stadium, also had a goal from a free kick by Ziyech disallowed in the first half for offside. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez put in forward Romelu Lukaku, the country’s record scorer, as a substitute with less than 10 minutes to go in a desperate attempt to get one back when it was 1-0. Lukaku hadn’t played since October and is only just returning from a left thigh problem. Morocco drew confidence from a 0-0 draw with Croatia in their first game and boosted their chances of reaching the knockout round for first time since 1986 – the only time it has ever advanced. Andrej Kramaric scored a pair of goals and Croatia crushed Canada’s hopes of advancing at their first World Cup in 36 years with a 4-1 victory. Alphonso Davies scored Canada’s first-ever World Cup goal seconds into the match but the team’s trip to soccer’s biggest tournament will end on Thursday against Morocco, the Group F leaders after a surprise 2-0 victory over Belgium earlier in the day. Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer also scored for Croatia, the runner-up to France at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Japan beaten 1-0
Essentially written off after being battered by Spain, Keysher Fuller has changed everything for Costa Rica. Fuller took advantage of a defensive error and scored the only goal of the match to lead his team over Japan 1-0 Sunday at the World Cup. Both teams now have three points after two matches and a good chance to advance to the round of 16 from Group E.

“We’re still alive,” said Costa Rica Captain Luka Modric, 37, was still looking for his first goal of the tournament in what is likely his final World Cup. Morocco went to the top of Group F with their first win at a World Cup since 1998. But the victory meant that the Canadians needed a win against Croatia for a chance to reach the knockout stage. Rica broke through. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas came up with several saves in quick succession in the final minutes to ensure the victory. Japan have one Group E game remaining against Spain, while Costa Rica face Germany in their final match. With a victory, Japan could have all but wrapped up a place in the knockout stage after a 2-1 upset win over Germany in their opener. Costa Rica were pounded by Spain 7-0 in their first game and just trying to survive.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said Costa Rica’s “solid defense” prevented his team from attacking more. “In the first half we couldn’t really develop any chances,” Moriyasu said. “I believe to a certain degree we were playing OK, however the result was a shame.” The first half might have been one of the dullest of a tournament that has already seen five 0-0 draws. Neither team had a shot on goal. Ritsu Doan, who scored one of Japan’s goals in the 2-1 win over Germany, looked the most threatening early with runs down the right side looking to cut in crosses.

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